Cook: Pirates' Martin takes a licking, but keeps on ticking


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Think Jerome Bettis after a 35-carry day for the Steelers.

"There are many Monday mornings when I literally have to crawl to the bathroom," Bus frequently said.

That should give you an idea how Pirates catcher Russell Martin feels today. He took another ferocious beating Sunday but kept squatting and standing, squatting and standing, squatting and blocking pitch after pitch in the dirt with all variety of body parts, those that were protected with equipment and those that weren't. Here's the beautiful thing, though: Martin ended up putting a much worse hurt on the St. Louis Cardinals. He was an offensive and defensive star in the Pirates' 5-3 win at PNC Park in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

"Feels better after a win, that's for sure," Martin said, grinning.

Many will focus on Martin's offensive contributions with good reason. His sacrifice fly on the first pitch he saw from Cardinals reliever Seth Maness in the sixth inning gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead. His run-scoring single to left in the eighth provided the Pirates with their fifth run, not to mention a little precious insurance for closer Jason Grilli.

Clearly, Martin enjoys the big postseason stage, especially at PNC Park. He hit a home run early and a home run late in the 6-2 wild-card win Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds.

Not bad for a guy who hit .226 during the season, though that weak number is a bit deceiving. Martin did have 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. He also delivered three walk-off hits.

"He's better than a .220 hitter, better than a .230 hitter," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He has offense to offer the team multiple ways. You're seeing it now, with the big swing the other night, then tonight with situational hitting, performing and getting some things done. He just loves to play. He loves to be in those spots."

Martin's RBIs were nice, but it was his defensive skills that showed up big-time on another maniac day and night at PNC Park. The Pirates don't win without 'em.

"[Pirates pitchers] know that they can throw anything they want with conviction, and it's going to be stopped," Hurdle said.

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano delivered 101 pitches on a day when he didn't have his best stuff. A majority of his pitches were in the dirt. Some were chased and missed by the Cardinals hitters, which is the purpose of bouncing in a pitch. Others were let go and called balls. All had to be blocked by Martin to keep baserunners from advancing.

"I'm just doing my job back there," Martin said.

How cool is that?

The man is humble, too.

Hurdle is an exceptionally positive, energetic man in good times and bad, but he saved some of his best gushing for Martin, whom he said provides a "calming influence" for Pirates pitchers.

"He gives every man that takes the ball and gets on that mound the feeling that they're the best. Not just the best right now, the best. He speaks very clearly to them ...

"The game-calling and the ability to come up with a Plan B on occasion, which we've had to do. He's got it in his back pocket. He's not afraid to pull it out and go. He's very creative back there. He's solidified everything we've done from behind the plate."

There's not much turnaround time for Martin before he has to go back out and take on the Cardinals -- not to mention Pirates starter Charlie Morton's sinkers and breaking balls -- in Game 4 with a win sending the Pirates on, somewhat improbably, to the National League Championship Series. He might have to crawl to the bathroom this morning, but he'll be ready to go by game time. He won't disappoint his teammates, especially his pitchers. He won't disappoint the big crowd, which, he says, gives him "energy."

"I can take ball after ball off the chest or the throat or whatever. It doesn't matter. I feel like I'll get through it."

Hurdle said the long season "wore" Martin down and held down his batting average. The postseason has rejuvenated Martin. He plans to keep ticking all the way through the World Series.

"This is the time to kind of muster up the strength and the energy," he said. "There are no excuses right now. If you're banged up, it doesn't matter. You have to go out there and play."

Morton's first pitch is scheduled for 3:07 p.m.

Martin will be there to stop it, if necessary.

Pain has never felt so good.

pirates - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published October 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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