NEW YORK -- Russell Martin has said all season long that his best baseball comes when the stretch drive is in full swing, and the first signs of that may have occurred Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Martin entered the game riding an 0-for-12 skid at the plate, but he homered twice to help lead the Blue Jays to an 11-5 victory. It was the start of a crucial four-game series against the Yankees with first place in the American League East on the line, and Martin's standout performance could not have come at a better time.
Toronto's veteran catcher also enjoyed his first three-hit game since July 22 and his second multi-homer game of the season. The fact that it came against his former Yankees team could have only made it that much sweeter.
"I feel great, my body definitely feels good, having a good game first game of a series definitely can get me on the right track," Martin said. "Offensively for myself, it has been a rough go for the last couple of weeks.
"I worked on some things yesterday in the cage, took a bunch of swings and it translated into BP today and translated into the game. Hopefully it's a good sign for me, but offensively it's never really been a problem to score runs, so it's just nice to join the gang."
Martin's self-analysis isn't quite accurate because typically he's best at the start of the season, with a career .256 average and a .794 OPS in March/April. But the fact that an everyday catcher has been able to post a .721 OPS in September during his 10-year career does show there's something to his inner beliefs.
By this time of the year, most catchers are worn down and struggling to make it to the finish line. Martin reached that point last month with a left hamstring injury, but he has since recovered and could be rounding into form at the right time. Toronto's overall depth and the ability to also use Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole behind the plate has been crucial in that return to health.
The two-homer performance was an encouraging sign and follows a stretch in which Martin has seen his production steadily decline over the last six weeks. Prior to Friday night's game, Martin was hitting .136 with a .247 on-base percentage and a .457 OPS since Aug. 1. That's not the Martin that everyone around the league has come to expect, but a strong finish will make that a mere footnote in an otherwise strong season.
"I definitely think that will help," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of the rest Toronto gave Martin over the last few weeks. "I think he caught his breath a little bit and he's feeling pretty good right now. But he's been through it so many times, what he did tonight, those things don't surprise me. He's got big-time power, he really does and he was bound to heat up."