Column: Russell Martin the unlikely hero as he saves Dodgers from the brink of disaster
Dodgers players Kike Hernandez, Cody Bellinger and Russell Martin discuss the team’s 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Standing on second base, Russell Martin clapped his gloved hands and howled into the October night.
In one breathtaking moment, the season was saved by the unlikeliest of heroes, a 36-year-old backup catcher with only three hits in his previous 35 postseason at-bats.
Martin’s two-run double in the sixth inning changed the trajectory of the game, and very possibly this best-of-five National League Division Series, as the Dodgers went on to claim a 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals to take a two-games-to-one lead.
The lopsided score masked how close the Dodgers were to disaster.
They were down on the scoreboard, 2-1, their offense looking as impotent in Game 3 as it was in their previous two games.
With men on the corners in the sixth inning, they were down to their final out. And after two pitches from Patrick Corbin, Martin was down to his final strike.
Veterans Russell Martin and David Freese key a sixth-inning comeback against Patrick Corbin, and the Dodgers are one win away from advancing to the NLCS.
“It wasn’t a good feeling, you know what I mean?” Martin later recalled with a smile. “Who likes being down 0-2? Nobody.”
Martin golfed a slider that dipped under the strike zone and launched the baseball into the wall that separated the bullpen at Nationals Park from the wall in left-center field.
Several Dodgers jumped in front of the dugout and joined third base coach Dino Ebel in waving home the runners.
Cody Bellinger scored.
David Freese scored.
Like that, a 2-1 deficit became a 3-2 advantage.
And there was more, from both the Dodgers and Martin individually. The Dodgers broke out of their offensive slumber to score five more runs in the inning to extend their lead to 8-2. Martin capped his night with a two-run home run in the ninth inning off Hunter Strickland.
Manager Dave Roberts called Martin “an extension of me, the coaching staff,” which is a euphemism in sports for old.
Martin became only the third player in baseball history who was 36 or older with two or more extra-base hits and four or more runs batted in in a postseason game. One of the other two was Babe Ruth.
The last time Martin homered in the playoffs for the Dodgers was 11 years ago. Manny Ramirez and James Loney homered in the same game.
“Chicago,” Martin said, recalling an NLDS in which the Dodgers defeated the Chicago Cubs.
At the time, Martin was part of a group of up-and-coming Dodgers that included Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton. He was in his third season and already a two-time All-Star.
“That’s such a long time ago,” Martin said. “A lot of foul tips ago. I don’t know if I can remember. I’m definitely calmer now. I’ve always been an intense baseball player and just person in general, but I think now I just know how to take a deep breath. I had a lot of yoga classes between those games and now.”
He also doesn’t enjoy the Hollywood nightlife as much as he did then. Martin traces back the change in his lifestyle to when the Dodgers parted ways with him after the 2010 season. Determined to prove they made a mistake, he started taking better care of his body. He is now convinced being let go by the Dodgers is why his career has lasted 14 years.
Patrick Corbin’s meltdown in Game 3 of the National League Division Series could doom the Washington Nationals’ pitching strategy against the Dodgers.
Martin moved on to the New York Yankees, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Toronto Blue Jays, making postseason appearances at every stop. The Dodgers reacquired him over the winter to back up the since-displaced Austin Barnes.
“He’s a gamer, man,” outfielder Cody Bellinger said. “He’s been doing this forever. This is his 10th postseason. He knows what to do.”
Rookie Will Smith started at catcher in Games 1 and 2. Martin, who batted .220 with six home runs in the regular season, replaced him Sunday because of his partnership with Hyun-Jin Ryu. With Martin behind the plate, Ryu posted a 1.52 earned-run average in the regular season.
The early returns were dispiriting. Ryu served up a two-run home run to Juan Soto in the first inning. The only offense the Dodgers manufactured against 35-year-old starter Anibal Sanchez came on a fifth-inning solo home run by Max Muncy.
Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin entered the game in the sixth inning, which Bellinger started with a single to right field.
Bellinger reached third base on a two-out single by Freese.
Up came Martin.
Behind 0-2 in the count, Martin said, “I just remember in the back of mind, we had a meeting and went over Corbin. With two strikes [and] guys in scoring position, he doesn’t really like to throw many strikes.”
Martin took a couple of pitches, then pounced on a slider.
“It’s not working away from me,” Martin said. “He’s a lefty, so it’s working its way into me and I just kept my hands in and lifted it and found an alley.”
The floodgates opened. The Dodgers won. And for one night, the old man was young again, back leading the chase for the same elusive championship he pursued a decade ago.
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