TORONTO — If you watch enough games featuring Russell Martin behind the plate, odds are you’re going to see him go hurdling into a dugout or two.
They don’t keep stats for these kinds of things, but a cursory search of MLB.com’s video archives turns up at least two other instances this season. There was one in Houston early last month when, in the bottom of the ninth inning, Martin lunged over a waist-high railing, glove extended, and ended up fully upside down, a pair of Astros coaches the only thing stopping him from face planting on the dugout floor. Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak had to fish him out by the waist.
There was another at Rogers Centre on Aug. 14 — also against the Astros — when Martin laid out on the visitor’s railing to catch a ball headed into Houston’s home base, rolling over onto his back along the ledge so as not to crack his skull off the wooden bench at the top of the dugout’s stairs. He ran away from the scene with the ball in his glove as his own bench gave him a standing ovation.
And then, on Saturday, there was the latest attempt, which saw Martin actually jump from the top of the dugout stairs to grab hold of the big blue roof and keep himself in the air a moment longer, before he crashed to the cement floor. He didn’t come up with the baseball, but he did come up with one hell of a highlight.
“You know what, Russell does that all the time,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “You cringe when he does, no doubt about it, but he’s trying to make a play and it’s tough to stop a guy from doing that.”
‘Trying to make a play’ is Martin’s rationale, too, when asked why he so often goes leaping into out-of-bounds areas chasing after foul balls that most catchers would leave alone. Every out matters, especially in September, and if Martin can sacrifice some fleshy part of his body to make one, he’s going to go for it.
“I’m not thinking about being cautious out there,” Martin said. “I’m not trying to be reckless but I play an aggressive style of baseball. I’m just trying to play the game the way I know how to play it and trying to get an out right there – especially against that team. Outs don’t come easy. I was just trying to make a play.”
Saturday’s effort looked especially dangerous, given that Martin had little chance of landing on his feet and the entire Red Sox dugout had their heads pointed skyward, watching the path of the pop fly. Boston manager John Farrell was the closest person with an opportunity to break Martin’s fall, but he admitted after the game he didn’t have much of a chance.
“No,” Farrell said. “And I couldn’t believe he jumped, to be honest with you.”
Martin originally thought the ball was going to hit the top of the dugout, and his plan was to reach up over the blue lid and try to make a play, but the ball ended up trailing back towards the exposed area of the dugout, hitting the ground about a foot away from Martin’s glove.
Players will tell you that high foul balls hit above the area behind home plate at Rogers Centre can do strange things, often looking like they’re headed for the seats before trailing back towards the field at the last moment. You might remember Dioner Navarro’s adventure catching a tall pop up in front of the Blue Jays dugout in Friday’s series opener, an effort that landed him flat on his back as he made the play on a ball that nearly ended up behind him.
“There’s a little bit of a breeze or something,” Martin said. “Balls just kind of fade back towards you at the last second.”
Martin says he’s familiar enough with the Rogers Centre’s layout to determine whether he has a chance of making a play or not, and that if those odds are anywhere north of around 0.01 per cent, he’s probably going to give it a go.
“I’m kind of calculating all those things as I’m going through the play. I know there’s a little opening there. I know how the dugout’s made. I know there’s really no chance of getting injured if I jump and land properly,” Martin said. “This time, I didn’t really land properly, but I was able to still keep it somewhat safe. It probably looked scarier than it actually was.
“It’s just one of those plays where you can kind of tell it’s going to be close. This time I probably went a little bit too far. I tend to do that,” Martin added. “I tried to make it a little bit more spectacular than it needed to be.”
On the Fox Sports broadcast of Saturday’s game, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello was being interviewed from the dugout about his 20-win season as Martin came flying in after the ball. The broadcasters asked him what he thought of it.
“That,” Porcello said, “was unbelievable.”