Bowled over and knocked to the ground, Russell Martin picked himself off the dirt and turned toward two men. He was showing one of them his glove, and more importantly, the ball still securely tucked inside it. But was he showing it to Carlos Pena or home plate umpire Sam Holbrook?
“I was showing it to Pena,” Martin said. “That’s just the feistiness in me.”
Or, to put it another way: “When someone’s trying to run you over,” Joe Girardi said. “You don’t necessarily help them up.”
Ever since Buster Posey was lost for the season, home plate collisions have been a hot-button topic around baseball. Girardi has said time and again that he was against any sort of catcher-protection rule. Catchers are supposed to block the plate, he said, and that’s what Martin did tonight.
“That was a clean hit,” Martin said. “There wasn’t anything dirty. As a catcher, you have to know when to put your body in position and when not to… Yesterday, I told Swisher, ‘I’m getting bored back there. I haven’t had a play in a long time.’ I got what I asked for.”
In reality, the play occurred in three parts: On the mound, in the outfield and at the plate.
Twice the Yankees got the ground ball they needed to get out of that sixth inning. It was a 3-2 game with one out and one one when A.J. Burnett induced a routine grounder to short. Eduardo Nunez tried to rush it and blew it. It was still 3-2 with two on and one out when Cory Wade ground a ground ball to third. Robinson Cano tried to rush the turn and blew it.
Full count, bases loaded, the decisive pitch was a changeup, a gutsy decision by a guy who was more or less a complete unknown a little more than a week ago.
“Very good pitch on Corey’s part,” A.J. Burnett said. “He threw a changeup right there, 3-2, and Gardy made a great play and Russell held onto it. Russ lives for that kind of stuff.”
The drive to left was a weird one, a low line drive that might have fallen in front of a slower player. Brett Gardner made a kind of awkward catch, but the key was that he stayed on his feet.
“It was a little off-balance, running in,” Gardner said. “I tried as hard as I could to get to it and catch it without having to dive for it. It was pretty low and hooking toward the line, so I tried to get to it as quick as I could. If I leave my feet, there’s no way I’m going to throw him out.”
Gardner’s momentum was going toward the infield, which helped, and the throw was perfect. One-hop to the plate, which left Martin in a good position and with time to brace for the blow and see it coming.
“That’s what you’re hoping for when you see that play develop, long hop,” Martin said. “The tough ones are the short hops. If you bobble the ball, that’s when you’re going to get crushed.”
Carlos Pena’s not a small man. Martin said he expected a collision from the moment the ball was hit into left field, and he called the impact itself “survival mode.”
“I love it,” he said. “I love it when I don’t get hit in the head… In my life, I don’t remember ever dropping a ball. You can feel it when it starts getting loose. He hit me in a good spot and I took the hit with me.”
Gardner came in from the outfield pumping his fist. Wade was backing up the play, and he pumped his fist too. Martin showed Pena the ball and walked away.
“That’s baseball,” Girardi said. “That’s how I went into home plate, and that’s how I’ve been run over, and that’s how you block the plate. Russell’s tough. Russell came up fine and that’s baseball… When you put that gear on, that’s what you sign up for.”
Or, to put it another way: “I’ve never caught before,” Gardner said. “But it can’t be easy to hold on to the ball when you’re hit by a big boy like that. Great job by Russ holding on to it.”
And here’s Gardner.
• Can’t overlook the error on the double play ball, but Eduardo Nunez still managed to show why the Yankees have some faith in him as an everyday shortstop while Derek Jeter is on the bench. He scored the go-ahead run, drove in the key insurance run and had his third two-hit day since taking over the position. “I don’t think Nuney (gets) enough credit for what he did in the ninth,” Gardner said. “The double he hit to left-center ended up being the game-winning hit. That was the difference.”
• A.J. Burnett was pretty good today. Actually, he was very good today except for a bad fastball that Pena hit for a two-run home run. Burnett would have pitched through the sixth if not for Nunez’s error. He struck out eight and showed a terrific curveball. Martin said, in retrospect, they should have thrown a changeup on the Pena home run.
• Another day with Burnett praising Martin for his ability to block breaking balls in the dirt. “If I’ve got a strike on a hitter, I’m going to throw it in the dirt as hard as I can,” Burnett said. “I always tell Russ, I just try to get it by him. That’s my goal. He won’t allow it to happen.”
• Burnett on his weird sac bunt that started foul — by a lot — and rolled back into fair territory: “I work on putting English on it,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It bounced a good foot foul and hit that ridge and rolled back fair.”
• Burnett and Ryan Dempster are old friends from their days as teammates with the Marlins. When Dempster broke his bat and sent a chunk flying toward Burnett, Dempster jogged off the field telling Burnett that it was the bat’s fault. “He said it’s bad wood,” Burnett said. “He said, ‘I barreled that ball up.’ … I was pretty focused, but I wanted to see what he had to say. Made me laugh.”
• Until Mariano Rivera allowed a home run in the ninth, this pieced together bullpen had gone eight straight games without allowing a run. Corey Wade, Hector Noesi and Dave Robertson pitched 2.2 scoreless to form the Rivera bridge tonight. “These guys have taken an opportunity and ran with it, a lot of these guys,” Girardi said. “We call up Corey and he does a good job. Noesi does a good job. They’re just throwing the ball well.”
• Girardi said he wasn’t bothered by a series of base running mistakes tonight. He likes his guys being aggressive. The head-scratcher was Alex Rodriguez being thrown out by 10 feet trying to stretch a single into a double. “I didn’t ask him,” Girardi said. “I usually don’t talk to guys right away in that situation. If I had to guess, I think he thought Soriano kind of dropped his head and was just was going to kind of take it easy throwing it in.”
• Nick Swisher’s leg is a little scratched up, but Girardi said he’s fine and will be able to play tomorrow.
Associated Press photos