Don't Let Russell Martin Get the Drop on You

The Pirates catcher is ready to start another season behind the plate — and as 40,000 screaming fans saw in last fall’s Wild Card game against Cincinnati, he can make a big difference at the dish, too.




Photos by Dave Arrigo

 

Big games often have unlikely heroes. It’s an old adage, but it holds true around here. When the Penguins finished off the Red Wings in 2009, it wasn’t Crosby or Malkin scoring the cup-winning goals; it was Max Talbot. When the Steelers became six-time Super Bowl champions, it was defender James Harrison with the breathtaking touchdown run.

In the Pirates’ return to the playoffs, Russell Martin was the one to put the Cincinnati Reds on their heels. Crowd-addled opposing pitcher Johnny Cueto served up a perfectly crushable pitch to the Pirates catcher, who launched it more than 400 feet into a sea of frantic fans. And yes — Martin does credit the crowd with the assist.

“When he dropped the ball, the tension dropped for me a bit,” says Martin, referring to an endlessly replayed moment where the crowd razzed Cueto until the shaken pitcher lost his grip on the ball. “And the next pitch — I don’t know if [dropping the ball] got him off his focus, but it was a mistake . . . right over the middle of the plate.

“When you get them, you have to hit them.”

Though Martin hit 15 homers in the 2013 regular season, his two Oct. 1 matched his total for the entire preceding month. The significance of contributing on that night isn’t lost on the 31-year-old catcher.

“Because of the crowd and the intensity and how meaningful that game was for the city of Pittsburgh, it was definitely special,” he says. “Actually having an impact on the game the way I did — that one’s in the memory bank.”

Pittsburgh signed Martin after the 2012 season, a year that ended in disappointing fashion for both parties. Pittsburgh had been atop the National League Central standings in mid-summer but thoroughly collapsed after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Martin — who had been an all-star with the New York Yankees in 2011 — posted career-low numbers in batting average (.211) and on-base percentage (.311).

“The Yankees fans have been spoiled over the years, as far as winning so many championships,” says Martin. “Their expectations are to win a World Series every year — and that’s a bit unfair for the team.”

The Pirates spent the better part of a decade looking for a reliable catcher. Martin’s predecessor Rod Barajas was well-liked by the pitching staff but limp at the plate and utterly incapable of throwing out baserunners. Longtime catcher Ryan Doumit showed flashes of power but struggled with injuries.



 

With an all-star pedigree and proven track record in the regular and postseason, Martin received an enthusiastic welcome in Pittsburgh. A home-run threat with a powerful throwing arm, the former Dodgers and Yankees player immediately became a fixture behind the plate.

Any casual fans who didn’t know his name before Oct. 1 committed it to memory that night. Long after Cueto had been chased, Martin added a second blast to his postseason tally as the Pirates continued to hammer nails into the Reds’ coffin.

“After you hit a home run in the game, you’re usually feeling pretty good out there,” Martin says of the second shot. “That was a no-doubter for me. That one felt better than the first one.”

The story from there gets bittersweet; although the Pirates dragged the St. Louis Cardinals into a series-deciding Game 5, the underdogs couldn’t upset the longtime N.L. powerhouse.

“Baseball is one pitch at a time,” says Martin. “It’s hard to pinpoint and say, ‘OK, this is why we lost.’ They played better. They just did a little bit more than us that day.”

As the high of the 2013 campaign started to wear off, regular hot-stove questions returned to the minds of Pirates fans. Without such late-season acquisitions as Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd, who would fill holes in right field and at first? Could momentum spurred by the particular mojo of 2013 carry through an offseason? And with the departure of A.J. Burnett, what would the starting rotation look like?

That last question has been asked the loudest by the media, both traditional and social, since the end of the playoffs. Martin has a swift answer for pitching questions: “I’m excited to catch whoever’s out there,” he says, decisively. “There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind [about] how our pitching staff is going to do. It’s going to be great.”

As for the mood of the team, Martin says that St. Louis is not at the forefront of anybody’s mind. Nor are those questions. And the doubts of the skeptics who call the 2013 team one-hit wonders can’t penetrate the pride behind the Pirates’ clubhouse walls.

“We were proud we had a great season. We were proud that we won that Wild Card game. We were proud that we battled all the way to the fifth game,” says Martin. "We’re a positive group. We support each other. And we like to focus on the good stuff.” 


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
Top Dentists 2016

Top Dentists 2016

The Pittsburgh region's 368 premier dentists across 8 specialties.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.
Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Co-owned by Franco Harris, the W Bowl brings together players from across the Women’s Football Alliance in a fierce competition.
Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

For more than a year, Fitt has helped Pittsburghers discover new, local ways to exercise and eat healthy. Now, the ‘Burgh-based start-up is expanding its reach to a dozen new cities.
Young Pirate Fan Star of the Show in Pirates' Marathon Win

Young Pirate Fan Star of the Show in Pirates' Marathon Win

Starling Marte's homer in the 18th inning beat the Washington Nationals Sunday but we wonder if the game's real MVP was actually in the stands.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
Top Dentists 2016

Top Dentists 2016

The Pittsburgh region's 368 premier dentists across 8 specialties.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

After his first taste of big-league ball, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow is ready for his close-up.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

We asked these Pittsburgh wedding photographers to share some of their most-memorable photos — and the stories behind them.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments