‘He’s one of the best in the game’
|09.13.09 at 4:35 pm ET|
If they didn’t know before, they know now.
“He’s one of the best in the game (at blocking the plate),” said Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck of Victor Martinez. “Overall blocking the plate, he’s very good at it. His timing is good, and he takes some chances, but he just let a runner slide straight into the plate and steered him right off.”
And because Martinez exhibited his merits as a human roadblock, the Red Sox were able to head into the dramatic last few innings of their tilt with the Rays Sunday afternoon without having to play catch-up. It was a dynamic that ultimately led to a game-deciding Dustin Pedroia, opposite field homer in the eighth inning, and a 3-1 win for the Red Sox in the first game of a Fenway Park doubleheader.
The play Tuck, and many of those analyzing the Sox’ seventh straight win at Fenway, chose to highlight as a turning point came in the seventh inning and the Sox leading, 1-0.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett bounced a ground ball up the middle that second baseman Dustin Pedroia could only barely glove and fire to first in a desperate shot at getting the baserunner. But the throw sailed just wide of first baseman Casey Kotchman, allowing Gregg Zaun to score the equalizer and Gabe Gross to take a shot at plating the go-ahead run.
Kotchman, considered one of the best defensive first basemen in the American League, whipped around and threw a strike to Martinez. The catcher extended his left leg fully, forcing Gross’ lead foot to land directly in the side of the upper calf. The obstacle forced the baserunner away from his path to the plate, allowing Martinez to come in with the tag.
“He’s a big kid, too. That’s a hell of a play. You don’t see that much,” Tuck said. “You see sweep tags now and bail outs. You don’t see men sticking their legs out there. He’s sacrificing himself for the team.”
As for Martinez, it appeared to be no big deal — both physically and otherwise.
“It was nothing serious,” who said Gross’ foot impacted just below the side of his knee.
“Casey made a good play, he got a good reaction, a good read. He gave a good throw that I could handle and I just blocked the plate.”
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