Martin continues to torment his former team

Jerry Howarth and Jeff Blair join Barry Davis to talk about the pitching of Marcus Stroman and hitting of catcher Russell Martin in the Toronto Blue Jays win over the New York Yankees.

Toronto – Of course it would be a former New York Yankees catcher on this day of days.

Who else would deliver the telling blow to the Yankees other than Russell Martin, part of the lineage of catchers to follow Yogi Berra and a player who is still lauded in that clubhouse for his toughness even though his stay was brief.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi could not be clearer after Martin’s three-run home run delivered a 4-0 win that pushed the Bronx Bombers 3.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays. That the Blue Jays are winning the American League East is because they’ve owned the Yankees, winning a club-record 13 games against them. And much of the reason behind that reason is Martin’s performance against his former team: 18 runs batted in, a .300 average and five home runs and three doubles in 50 at-bats. One quarter of his RBIs, in other words, plus a batting average that is 70 points higher than his season average.

“That’s the difference in the standings – what they’ve done to us,” Girardi said, quietly. “Right now, it’s the difference in the division.

“It becomes really difficult. You need help from the other teams. If you’re one win back in the loss column instead of three, it’s a little bit different. It’s not mathematically impossible … but we’re going to have to be almost perfect.”

Yankees third baseman Chase Headley seemed to raise the rhetorical white flag when he noted that, “The goal is to win the World Series, and if we get in – regardless how – we have a shot.” But if that was indicative of a subtle resetting of ambition after losing two of three games to the team they’re chasing, Girardi was having no part of it, waving away a question about whether he would now re-align his pitching to ensure that Masahiro Tanaka, Wednesday’s scheduled starter who was bumped because of a hamstring injury, will line up for a one-game wild-card.

“We haven’t clinched anything yet,” he said, a little tersely. “We still have to win ball games.”

Yankees starter Ivan Nova was torched for six earned runs and seven hits in 1.2 innings in the second game of the Blue Jays’ double-header sweep on Sept. 12 and was demoted to the bullpen. But he was put back in the rotation for this start and delivered handsomely, checking the Blue Jays on one run over 5.2 innings before giving way to the bullpen. After using Andrew Miller for 42 pitches on Tuesday, Girardi’s plan was to use Justin Wilson as his setup man and Dellin Betances as his closer. It was why he elected to pinch-run for Carlos Beltran in the seventh with the Blue Jays leading 1-0. Of course, Beltran, who has delivered big hits for the Yankees in this series, saw his spot in the order come around again in the ninth with one on and one out.

“You have to tie up the game first before you can get to the guys at the back end,” Girardi said. “We had [Wilson] for the eighth and Dellin for the ninth. We just never got there.”

Martin took the measure of Yankees reliever Andrew Bailey for the second time this season. Bailey started to skip off the mound on a 1-2 pitch to Martin that he believed to be a strike. Home plate umpire Jim Reynolds begged to differ, and Martin hammered a next pitch fastball over the wall.

Bailey, who pitched two effective innings in the Yankees’ loss to the Blue Jays on Monday, also gave up a homer to Martin on Sept. 11 at Yankee Stadium. Girardi said walking Martin never was on the table. “Bailey’s been good for us, and I like the way he handled [Jose] Bautista,” he said, referring to a one-out grounder induced by Bailey three batters before Martin came to the plate. “He made a mistake. Mistakes happen.”

“In that situation, I have to be better,” Bailey said. “I mean, right there it goes back to executing the pitch and getting the guys back in the dugout. That 1-2 pitch … I mean, I didn’t see it. My ball cuts away. Anyhow, you have to put it behind you and get the next pitch.

“I faced him [Martin] in New York and it was the same thing. Same pitch, same execution issue. I was trying to throw the fastball in this time, too, and he did the same thing. Next time … I’ll just have to get it in deeper.”

Martin left the Yankees after the 2012 season and took a $1-million pay cut to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pressed, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will now admit that he undervalued Martin during his two years with the team, and Yankees people say that Cashman is just as effusive in his praise of Martin’s toughness now that he’s with the Blue Jays as he was when he was in pinstripes. It takes a certain type of player to handle the pressures of the New York market and Los Angeles – where Martin broke in with the Dodgers – and they are two teams not only with a rich history of iconic catchers, but also a rich history of players with a keen sense of the moment. If this season plays out to some enchanted finish, then we might look back to Wednesday night and call it the night in which Martin wrote himself into Blue Jays folklore.

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