Kevin Long doesn’t remember when exactly the conversation took place, but he remembers that it was Russell Martin’s idea. Martin wanted to back away from the plate a little bit, stand just far enough that he could cover the inner half a little better.
“I felt like I was getting tied up inside and I felt like I was starting to pull off the ball early with my stride,” Martin explained. “Now I kind of just evened out my stride, and I feel like I’m ready to drive the ball the other way more with more ease. I was fighting to do it before.”
In his past 12 games, Martin has raised his batting average from .173 to .216. He’s homered four times in his past six games, including two big ones tonight. His seventh-inning shot got just over Scott Hairston’s glove in right field. His walk-off went a few rows deep in left.
“It’s really worked out for him,” Long said. “(Martin) said, ‘I’m going to back off the plate. Maybe that’ll get my stride direction good and I’ll just look out over the plate. If they do come in, I should be able to react.’ It was solely him. … He was frustrated a little bit, but he kept believing that all his hard work — everything he’d done through the winter and up to this point — was going to pay off. It’s starting to show real good signs, especially this month. He’s been on fire.”
The change itself is hard to notice, but the impact seems to be significant. Maybe some of it is simply the law of averages — Martin was surely not going to hit .180 all year — but he’s become a more productive player, and today Martin was pivotal in securing a series sweep and sending the Yankees on the road with 13 wins in their past 17 games. The Yankees are playing well, and finally, their catcher is contributing at the plate.
“With this team, up and down the lineup, guys have the ability to hit,” Martin said. “Luckily for me, I had guys that picked up my slack earlier in the year. Not that I’m here for my bat or anything like that, but it definitely feels good to be able to contribute a little bit. I never felt too much pressure. I just kept trying to do my thing defensively and try to call good games. Now that I’m swinging the bat good, it’s even better.”
• Andy Pettitte said his command was off early in the game, but he was able to find it later on. He finished with eight strikeouts and looked tremendous in every inning except the second. “I felt good,” Pettitte said. “I felt a tick off early, the first inning or two. I felt good, just felt a tick off, like I just wasn’t quite getting the ball where I wanted to. After that I felt like I had been feeling. I felt like my command was really good.”
• Even that second inning didn’t include a lot of hard-hit balls, and if Robinson Cano hadn’t made his error, Pettitte might have gotten out of the inning with just one run. As it was, the big hit was a softly hit double. “The ball bounced right over first base for a double down the line,” Pettitte said. “I wasn’t even trying to throw that pitch for a strike. I’d just got strike one on him and I was trying to throw a ball up and in on him to get him off the plate. That was extremely frustrating.”
• Pettitte has struck out at least eight batters in each of his last four home starts. It’s the longest such streak of his career. CC Sabathia is the only other Yankees starter to compile such a streak in the past nine years.
• The Yankees have been talking about hitting into hard outs and hoping it will eventually even out. Today it evened out a little bit in the eighth inning when four straight singles — some of which weren’t hit very good — led to the tying and go-ahead runs. “We made a lot of hard outs early in the game and ended up with some really hard double plays,” Mark Teixeira said. “That happens. In the eighth we just got lucky, found some holes and took advantage of maybe a little lapse of defense. That was the ballgame.”
• This was the Yankees first walk-off home run of the year, and it was their first walk-off against the Mets since Luis Castilla dropped that popup in 2009. … It was the Yankees 18th comeback win of the season, and their fourth by at least three runs. … The Yankees were 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, with all three hits coming in the eighth inning.
• This was the third time this season that the Yankees grounded into three double plays.
• Martin on his first home run: “I thought he caught the ball at first. For a split second, I thought I was out. The next thing you know, I’m rounding the bases. Rounding the bases is a lot better than taking a right turn back to the dugout.”
• Derek Jeter on Martin’s first home run: “I was in the bathroom at the time,” Jeter said. “So I didn’t see the moment, I just heard, but I heard something good happened. Just trying to be honest with you.”
• Jayson Nix drew some raves in the clubhouse for his play in the eighth inning, getting the lead runner at third base on a fairly routine grounder to shortstop. “It’s a heads-up play by him,” Jeter said. “You have to think about it before you do it, you can’t just catch it and then make up your mind. He obviously thought about it before, and that was a big part of the game.”
• Jeter got some raves of his own for taking second base on that eighth-inning error. “I knew I was taking a chance,” Jeter said. “I saw it took sort of a funny hop on him and took a chance.”
• Rafael Soriano blew a save for the first time this season. He was booed coming off the mound. “I don’t care about the fans’ (reaction) because nobody is perfect in this game,” he said. “To me, it happened today. Come back tomorrow and try to save the game.”
• Soriano said he didn’t feel sharp today and didn’t have a problem with Girardi bringing in Boone Logan with the go-ahead run at third base. “I tried to pitch the best that I can, and that thing happens,” Soriano said. “I don’t think I had a good fastball today, nothing like that. No excuse.”
• Dave Robertson pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this afternoon. It was his first rehab game since straining his oblique last month.
• Hiroki Kuroda reported no problems with his left foot during today’s bullpen. He’s expected to make his next start in Atlanta.
• As you might have guessed, Girardi did not call for Nick Swisher to bunt today. “No,” Girardi said. “We were down three runs, and he was just trying to get on base. That’s what he was trying to do, but as I told him, he’s capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark down three runs.”
• You might have noticed that Martin fell at home plate during the walk-off celebration. “I tried to jump in the air to celebrate, and I got about two inches off the ground,” he said. “Still managed to touch home plate.”
Associated Press photos