Martinez powers Sox over Indians
CLEVELAND — The applause was warm and full as the Indians former catcher stepped to the plate in the first inning.
It was not, however, very loud, though that had more to do with the low attendance at Progressive Field on the night Victor Martinez returned to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Red Sox.
And in that reception by the few that came out to support the home team — announced as 14,758 — is the reason Martinez is grateful for being shipped out of Cleveland.
“There’s no doubt about it,’’ Martinez said, before last night’s game. “I left this place that I always am going to have in my heart. I left the place that saw me growing up as a player, as a person. I really can’t say thanks enough. They sent me to one of the greatest teams in baseball, to the Red Sox, to a contender team that is always in the race, always has a chance to win a World Series. I’m really, really happy to be here.’’
Just as he was happy to be in Cleveland yesterday, shaking hands and giving hugs, though also acknowledging that this Indians club is not the one he played with most of his career. That team came a game short of the World Series in 2007. This team has the second-worst record in baseball, and fell again last night to the Red Sox, 4-1, as Daisuke Matsuzaka picked up his 150th win, including 108 while pitching in Japan.
Still, as far as the Indians have fallen, Cleveland means something special to Martinez. And before last night’s game, he sat in the visitors’ dugout with his son Victor on his lap, and a grin on his face.
“It’s pretty emotional,’’ Martinez said. “The first time being back here. It’s a weird feeling, just to turn in a different door, come into a different clubhouse. It’s tough.’’
But it wasn’t tough behind the plate or in the batter’s box. Matsuzaka used his cutter especially well, and that partially came from Martinez’ calls. Said Matsuzaka, “I think between the bullpen and the warmup pitches that I get between innings, he saw that my cutter was working better than my slider today.’’
“His cutter was real effective, especially to [Travis] Hafner, [Rus sell] Branyan,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He got a couple broken bats, a couple that fell in for hits, but it was a real good weapon for him.
“Whether you get swings and misses, or you kind of take the sting out of their bats, however you want to put it. With that cutter — it was about 89 — he can frontdoor, backdoor jam a lefty. He threw a couple of fastballs tonight, he got swings and misses, [and] he actually misfired. But his stuff’s good enough where that can happen.’’
He looked comfortable last night, as did Martinez. It seems the two have resolved some of the differences that led to a blowup after a start in New York in May. Neither seemed happy after that start. They were better last night.
“You’re not going to be on the same page all starts,’’ Martinez said. “He threw the ball great. It’s all on him. Like I said, I just put suggestions out there. If he likes it, good. If he don’t like it, he’s got the right to say no. Sometimes if you don’t agree, you don’t agree. You’re not just going to throw a pitch because I call it. But he’s been throwing the ball great. It was that simple today.’’
But that wasn’t the only reason for the comfort on the part of Martinez.
While in Cleveland, Martinez is staying with his former host family, Bob and Patty Bixler, the family that gave him a place to sleep in 1999, his first season in the United States, while he played for the Indians’ rookie league team. They have remained close, even as Martinez shot up through the minors and gained fame in the majors. Along with his wife and children, Martinez is staying with them, about an hour from Cleveland in Warren, Ohio.
“I still keep in touch with them,’’ Martinez said. “They’re my mom and dad, believe it or not. They’re my family.’’
Even though now the Sox are his team. The Sox had little trouble dispatching the Indians last night. Over eight well-pitched innings, Matsuzaka allowed only four hits and two walks. He didn’t allow a runner past second, and the only one to touch second base got tagged out on his way to third.
And the Sox did just enough to get him the win. They scored single runs in the first, third, seventh, and eighth innings. In the first and seventh, Marco Scutaro led off with doubles, coming around to score first on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly and then on a Martinez sacrifice fly. The other runs came on a fielder’s choice in the third and a Bill Hall single in the eighth that scored Adrian Beltre (double).
Scutaro tied a career high with three doubles, all the more impressive given that he’s been suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck that has left him dealing with stiffness and occasional numbness.
“It’s getting into that time of year where everyday players are going to be beat up,’’ Francona said. “To their credit, what makes guys good everyday players is they find ways to not only to deal with it, but be productive, and he’s a good example of that. He wasn’t an everyday player for a long time. He wants to be an everyday player, and he’s working hard to still be productive. He’s done a terrific job.’’
And, so, on a quiet night in Cleveland, as the Sox stepped into third place ahead of the Blue Jays in the American League East, Martinez emerged ahead of his old teammates. For Martinez, there are no regrets.
“It’s been great,’’ Martinez said of playing in Boston. “Great fans, it’s a great ballpark to play in. Full house every night. What else can you ask for?’’