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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

The mother of a child with special needs, Frey tirelessly shares what she has learned with other families in similar situations.
Mic'd Up: Did Ben Really Call Antonio ‘Ronald?’

Mic'd Up: Did Ben Really Call Antonio ‘Ronald?’

For reasons only he knows, Antonio Brown wants to be known as Ronald and, with the season he's having, his quarterback is willing to oblige.
Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line and the team's entire rookie class will be signing autographs for charity later this week.
Richard DeShantz Shows You How to Make Pot Roast Like a Pro

Richard DeShantz Shows You How to Make Pot Roast Like a Pro

The owner of Meat & Potatoes shares his delicious techniques with a national TV audience.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

The mother of a child with special needs, Frey tirelessly shares what she has learned with other families in similar situations.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

The holiday themed cocktail bar is one of around 20 international Miracle popups.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

At the NFL Scouting Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Before the Proposal: How to Ask her Parents' Permission

Before the Proposal: How to Ask her Parents' Permission

It can be more intimidating than the actual proposal, asking a father for his daughter's hand in marriage. Three grooms share their stories of how they popped that first big question.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Waynesburg University will present a TUBACHRISTMAS concert on Dec. 9.

Comments