It was good to see Victor Martinez again on Sunday. He had been greatly missed.
In the eighth inning against the White Sox, Miguel Cabrera struck out with the bases loaded and the Tigers trailing 4-1.
Martinez stepped to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw to deep right-center field, clearing the bases and tying the game 4-4.
“That’s the Victor we saw last year, in 2014,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’ve seen it since he’s come back from his rehab stint. I feel like there’s someone back there that’s really protecting Miggy.”
The grand slam set up James McCann’s ninth-inning heroics, when he crushed Zach Putnam’s splitter to left field for a 5-4 walk-off win.
“We weren’t able to do anything off this guy the whole game,” Martinez said. “Just getting that hit to tie the game up, I think it was huge for the team. We were able to come back next inning and take the game.”
While McCann got the celebration at home plate, there’s no doubt that a healthy Martinez is vital to the Tigers’ current and future success.
“You add Victor Martinez to any lineup, he’s going to be a game-changer,” reliever Alex Wilson said. “He’s just got a presence about him in the box, in the clubhouse, on the field in general.”
Due to late offseason knee surgery to repair his left meniscus, Martinez wasn’t able to have the same kind of production hitting left-handed at the beginning of the 2015 season.
The Tigers decided to put Martinez on the disabled list for a month from Monday, May 19 to Thursday, June 18 so he could get the entire knee stronger.
Clearly, it has worked.
As of Wednesday, Martinez has a batting average of .234, an on-base percentage of .316 and 10 RBI in the last 11 games.
The Tigers also have more success when Martinez starts, as the team is 28-22 with No. 41 in the lineup and went just 11-16 during the month Martinez was on the disabled list.
Certainly every player on the roster has a role to play, but Martinez’s intangibles off the field and his spot in the lineup make his role a critical one.
“The beginning of the year, I said the only person that could protect Miggy in the lineup, was Miggy,” Ausmus said. “About halfway through 2014, I said, well, there might be two people who can protect Miggy, Miggy and Victor. It’s nice to have that back, because it’s very important.”
Martinez tends to play down his importance to the team, but that’s no surprise.
“I always say, this is not a one-man sport,” Martinez said. “That’s why we have 25 men on the roster, everybody has to do their thing to win a championship.”
And Martinez is finally back, and healthy, doing his thing.