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Canada's Russell Martin continues clutch hitting in playoffs

Don't be fooled by the .223 career playoff batting average. Russell Martin of the New York Yankees has shown in these playoffs that he doesn't need a 3-for-4 performance at the plate to strike fear in the opposition, writes CBCSports.ca writer Doug Harrison.

'Unselfish' catcher impresses Yankees manager with offensive, defensive performance vs. Orioles

Yankees catcher Russell Martin throws out Orioles' Lew Ford at first base in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Don’t be fooled by the .211 regular-season batting average or .223 career post-season mark.

Russell Martin has shown in these playoffs and through much of the season that he doesn’t need a 3-for-4 performance at the plate to strike fear in the opposition.

In Game 1 of an American League Division Series, the New York Yankees catcher and Montreal native was forced to stop several pitches that came up short of the plate and in the fifth inning he made an acrobatic play in the field that probably saved a Baltimore run from scoring.

Martin darted from behind the plate on a Lew Ford dribbler and made an exceptional play that proved crucial, sandwiched between two Orioles singles in a game tied 2-2.

"I think he has a lot of confidence in what he’s doing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told CBCSports.ca this week during a conference call with reporters. "It’s not just calling games, it’s blocking balls, it’s throwing base runners out.

"What has been most impressive about Russell’s year for me is he never took his [poor] at-bats behind home plate and continued to fight the whole way through it.

"I think it says a lot about a person’s character," added Girardi. "I think it talks about [the fact] he cares about winning more than his personal gain, that he’s a real team player."

On the same night as those spectacular defensive plays, Martin led off the ninth and drilled a 93-mile-per-hour fastball into the left-field stands off Baltimore’s 51-save man Jim Johnson for his third homer of the season in the ninth inning or later.

"I think Russell has always been a clutch player and I think he’s always relished the moment," said Girardi, whose team scored four more times in that ninth inning for a 7-2 win. "He’s very skilled and it’s shown up, especially in the last month of the season [with] some of the walkoff homers he’s had for us."

Tough season at plate

Clearing the fence, which he did a career-best 21 times this season, was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable campaign at the plate for the 29-year-old Martin, a free agent after this season.

His average sat below .200 as late as Sept. 3 but two days later he bumped it back over "The Mendoza Line" for good. 

Hitting .179 before the all-star break, the Yankees backstop persevered in the second half of the season with a .242 mark, batting .277 with seven home runs and 17 runs batted in over his last 24 games as the Yankees battled Baltimore for top spot in the AL East division.

More importantly, Martin didn’t let his early-season struggles affect others parts of his game.

"When you go through tough times for a substantial period it can really tax on you, and I never saw it [this season from Martin]," said Girardi, who caught more than 1,200 games in 15 major league seasons.

"I never saw him stop working. I never saw him take [his frustrations] behind home plate and it just shows you how unselfish of a player he really is."

Martin told reporters following Game 1 that he’s happy whether he helps the team offensively or defensively. The catcher’s work ethic and willingness to throw his body around behind the plate has also endeared him to his teammates.

"I think whenever you have a player that plays to win and is more concerned about the team than his personal statistics you’re going to find that everyone respects that," said Girardi of Martin, who entered Thursday 3-for-10 in this year’s ALDS.

"And he’s a lot of fun to be around. That’s the other part that maybe a lot of times goes unnoticed."

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