Red Sox

How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

Good things come to those who wait. And while it’s hard to knock the results of the Houston Astros’ “process,” a new piece from Sports Illustrated details how J.D. Martinez has them wishing they waited a little longer.

Coming off an age-25 season that saw him hit just .250 with a .650 OPS, Martinez was desperate to change in 2013. After all, with limited speed and a below-average glove, Martinez’s bat was his livelihood.

“J.D., you’re not even a career .700 OPS hitter,” said then-Astros hitting coach John Mallee. “You don’t steal bags. You’re not a Gold Glover. You have to hit… You can make enough money to live off of, at least until you become too expensive to keep around. But that’s it. Unless you change something.”

After studying perennial All-Stars like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun, Martinez realized his entire swing needed an overhaul, and turned to Astros teammate Jason Castro for advice. Martinez’s journey with Castro is a long one, taking him from Houston to California to Venezuela and, finally, to Kissimmee, Florida, home of the Astros’ Spring Training complex.  

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With a new swing in his toolbox, a revamped enthusiasm and energy, and a desperation to prove himself, all Martinez needed was an opportunity. But the Astros didn't oblige. Houston -- coming off a 111-loss season -- released Martinez after just 18 exhibition at-bats, not even seeking anything in return. Martinez couldn't make the worst team in the league.

Instead of sulking, however, Martinez was motivated -- driven to make the Astros' lack of confidence in his adjustments haunt them.

"You guys are going to see me," Martinez told Houston teammates José Altuve and Dallas Keuchel after being released. "Don't worry about it. I'll be good. I promise you."

Martinez caught on with the Detroit Tigers and the rest, as they say, is history. He used his new swing to slug his way to the top of a myriad of offensive categories and now, four years after being released, there is perhaps no more feared slugger in baseball than Martinez, who has two more home runs (37) than his team has losses (35).

Martinez’s road to the top has been long, but serves as a reminder that in a sport increasingly driven by data, the game is played by humans, and not even the most thorough algorithms can compute a human’s drive to succeed.

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David Price: I found 'something in bullpen warming up' during Game 4

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AP Sports Photo

David Price: I found 'something in bullpen warming up' during Game 4

During the late stages of Game 4 of the ALCS, Red Sox starter David Price began throwing in the Boston bullpen. Price, who started Game 2, was loosening as an insurance policy for manager Alex Cora amid closer Craig Kimbrel's latest tightwire, anxiety-inducing, blood-pressure raising attempt to close a game. 

Kimbrel eventually worked himself out of the jam, with a lot of help from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, and Price did not have to enter the game.

Price joked after the game that he found something during his time pitching in the bullpen. Or at least, that's what people thought. 

Whatever it was that Price found, it carried over to Game 5. Price threw six scoreless innings, giving up just three hits, walking none, and striking out nine. 

It was the first time that Price has thrown six innings in a postseason start since 2015, and the first win he's recorded in 12 career postseason starts.

Price's big-game struggles have been well documented. The six scoreless innings lowered his career postseason ERA to a crooked 5.04. Since he joined the Red Sox, his ERA against the Yankees is 7.71.

Price got off to a slow start in 2018, ranking 30th of 42 American League starters in first half ERA (4.42). But Cora stuck with him and he responded. Price lead the league in ERA (2.25) post All-Star break. 

Whatever he found in the bullpen on Wednesday, it seemed to help Price get back to the same groove he settled into in the second half. With the playoff monkey off his back, the big lefty could become a huge weapon for the Red Sox in the their quest to win the World Series.

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From Price to Cora, individual journeys sweeten Sox pennant

From Price to Cora, individual journeys sweeten Sox pennant

HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. is too streaky. J.D. Martinez isn’t good enough to play for the Astros, victims of their own success. David Price is incapable of pitching well in the postseason. Dave Dombrowski can never build a bullpen.

Any World Series team has a collection of feel-good stories, doubts that were overcome. But on the 2018 Red Sox — the winningest team in the franchise’s regular-season history, now bound for the Fall Classic after bulldozing the defending champs on the road — a particularly large assortment of memorable journeys have converged.

Reputations have been rewritten or simply shed on the way to a pennant. Reward and growth are easy to see; some in numbers, like six shutout innings from Price, and some in more meaningful ways.

When asked during the champagne celebration about his 11-month-old daughter, Lydia Joy, who has undergone multiple heart procedures, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel said even the question would cause him to choke up. 

On the field, Kimbrel looked more dominant in his pennant-clinching Game 5 save than he has in a long time, a product of some fixed mechanics after a realization he was tipping pitches. Family and baseball are not to be conflated, but achievement in the latter can mean so much more when dedicated to the former.

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Alex Cora, the rookie manager who kept his faith in Kimbrel, has all season carried not only balanced the pressures of a clubhouse, but an island in repair.

“There's a lot of people proud of me back home,” the Puerto Rico native said. “I mentioned it earlier today during the celebration, that I only asked for one thing in the negotiation. And I know a lot of people have made a big deal of that. But I just asked for a plane full of supplies. And we went down there and we helped 300 families in my hometown.”

"We've been going through a lot as a country back home. But if it's a special night for my country, well, you know what, celebrate. It's amazing. It's amazing. I can't wait for this to be over and go home in the offseason and celebrate with them. And we still got work to do.”

Fans, media, Twitter trolls -- there was a large collection of people who were ready to declare Jackie Bradley Jr. expendable. Then he cracks home runs in Games 3 and 4 in the ALCS and is named the series MVP.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Mookie Betts. "We’ve been through the ranks together. It’s one of those things where I can look next to him and know that we’ve been together kind of every step of the way. I knew what kind of player he is. He’s proven it. he definitely proved it this series. He’s not just a glove out there. He can do it all.”

David Price may not have to answer that question, the question, about the postseason again, about why he apparently can’t handle it as a starter. He can talk about his past failures as his past, and he acknowledged how much that meant to him on Thursday.

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J.D. Martinez homered in the ball park he called home to begin his career, knocking off the team that once said he wasn’t good enough to make it in the big leagues. The slugger was humble about it afterward, noting that it felt good to defeat the defending champions — but taking no public pride in ousting the team that cut him four years ago.

The list goes on. Dana LeVangie, pitching coach, has spent his entire professional baseball career with one organization, from player to scout to coach, and rose through the ranks in a way few ever do. 

Every other team improved its bullpen at the trade deadline. Dombrowski stood pat with his pitching aside from Nate Eovaldi, and he's gotten the result he wanted.

Eovaldi's had Tommy John surgery twice, and hit 101 mph in Game 5. Ryan Brasier hadn't pitched in the big leagues in five years and may become a household name -- at least among baseball fans -- in the late innings of the World Series.

“It's a full team," Martinez said, "And I think today, this whole series, this whole playoffs has been a display of that.”

The playoffs too have been a display of how individual journeys shine together.

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