PITTSBURGH -- Life can take unexpected turns, especially in the baseball world. Just ask Russell Martin, who went from the most postseason-tested franchise in history, the Yankees, to the team that hadn't been to the playoffs in more than two decades, the Pirates. Yet it's Martin who plays on while his former club sits at home.
"There's a bit of irony," Martin said. "You can never tell. Everything happens for a reason. I just think I made the right decision. The Yankees had a shot, they were in it all the way through until the end. They're at home watching. Hopefully, they're cheering [for] me. I wish them all the best for next year. Myself, I'm going to keep grinding and keep having fun playing this game."
Martin has a lot to do with his ability to keep having fun playing this October. The veteran catcher hit two homers in the Pirates' 6-2 victory over the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, moving the Bucs on to the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, starting in St. Louis on Thursday (5 p.m. ET on TBS).
Martin became only the second Pirates player to record a multihomer game in the postseason, joining Bob Robertson, who hit three out in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series in San Francisco back in 1971. It doubled Martin's playoff home run total. The catcher went deep in the 2008 NLDS against the Cubs while with the Dodgers, then again four years later in the American League Division Series against the Orioles while playing for the Yankees.
That prior experience is a big reason why the Bucs aggressively pursued Martin during the offseason on the free-agent market, luring him from New York with a two-year, $17 million contract. The Yankees never were serious players in retaining Martin's services, and in his absence, they struggled with their play behind the plate all season.
"It's not really something I think about too much," Martin said. "They were trying to spend money in other areas. I'm not a GM and I don't think I ever will be. It's tough to predict the future. You can't really tell what's going to happen. I enjoyed my time there -- the fans were great, I enjoyed playing with a bunch of future legends, but now I'm in a good spot. It feels like home here."
Martin's first home run came in the second inning, just one out after Marlon Byrd had put Pittsburgh up, 1-0, with a long ball of his own. The catcher's drive came after an interesting sequence in which Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto dropped the ball -- with the PNC Park crowd loudly chanting his last name -- while about to start his windup. The next pitch was a fastball up in the zone, and Martin didn't pass up the opportunity, taking advantage of what he thinks was the raucous crowd unnerving Cueto a bit.
"This is a time when we need [the crowd] the most, and they showed up and pretty much gave us a win by being the 10th man out there," Martin said. "I know they got in Cueto's head a little bit. He might not admit to it. It was definitely a tough environment for an opposing team to play in. It was special."
Martin's second blast, off reliever Logan Ondrusek in the seventh, gave the Pirates a 6-1 lead and once again got the crowd whipped into a frenzy. With two swings of the bat, Martin was able to erase a second-half fade. Perhaps all he needed was the turn of the calendar page to October, but there's no question he's forgotten all about the fact he hit .127 in September and just .207 in the second half of the season.
"This is it. It gives you new life," Martin said. "The crowd gives you energy. At this point, you don't have to force yourself or find a way to get energy to grind it out. From now on, you have the energy, it's there, the adrenaline's there. You feel you have a little extra bat speed. That's what playoff baseball is all about.
"My hands were a bit quicker than usual. The crowd gave me some energy, and I released it on the baseball."