Blue Jays' Martin still has plenty to play for down stretch
Minnesota Twins' Byron Buxton heads for home on his solo walkoff home run off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Luis Santos during the 10th inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 3-2. (Jim Mone/AP Photo)
MINNEAPOLIS - What does game 147 of his first lost season as a Blue Jay mean to Russell Martin?
High on the list is the potential of playing spoiler.
The competitor in the veteran catcher knows his team can do some damage to the Twins wildcard playoff hopes over a four-game series that began here at Target Field on Thursday night.
The Jays made a serious bid for it in the opener too, pushing the Twins to extra innings on Justin Smoak’s 38th homer of the year with two out in the ninth.
But the Twins had the final say when Byron Buxton rocked a solo shot of his own in the 10th to secure a 3-2 win.
It was the 11th loss in the past 15 on the road for the Jays while the Twins increased their hold on the final AL wildcard spot to a 2 1/2-game margin over the Angels.
Losses like these are still frustrating, but from Martin’s perspective anyway, there will still be something to play for any night he is in the lineup.
There is the injection of enthusiasm provided by the September call ups, who have brought some freshness and success to the Jays over the past couple of weeks.
But most of all, Martin wants to finish 2017 without pain and misery. Physically recovered from an oblique strain that kept him out of 30 games, the remaining dates on the schedule offer a chance to gather some positive vibes.
“My goal was just to get back and get healthy,” said Martin, who returned to the Jays lineup on Wednesday in Toronto and is with the team here in the Twin Cities. “It’s part of being professional.
“That’s one of the goals. But also to win as many games as we can from here on out and see what these young players can do. At the same time, on a personal level I want to play well and feel good going onto the off season.
“You want to feel enthused, even when things haven’t gone so well.”
On Thursday they made the Twins -- who currently hold the second AL wildcard -- work for it. Minnesota manager Paul Molitor went deep into his bullpen to stymie the Jays offence and keep it a one-run game.
Back to Martin, the oblique injury was doubly frustrating for the 34-year-old, who hadn’t suffered anything like it in his 12-year major league career. He first noticed it in batting practice of an Aug. 11 game against the Pirates and then with one swing of the bat - boom, he was off to the DL.
Martin was given the night off for Thursday’s opener, after getting the start on Wednesday back home against the Orioles. Manager John Gibbons said he expects his veteran to be behind the plate to catch J.A. Happ on Friday and Marco Estrada on Saturday.
It’s certainly a different September for the Canadian-born catcher, who in his two previous seasons with the Jays was gearing up for a playoff push in September, a perfect outlet for his proven competitiveness. Playing out the string is something he’ll battle to avoid.
Is the failure of a season that never gathered any meaningful positive momentum frustrating? As it is with the veteran constituency of a clubhouse that is being denied a third consecutive playoff berth, of course it is for Martin as well.
While there are plenty of reasons for the Jays inability to climb out of the AL East basement for even a single game of the season, Martin points to one area that has been a consistent area of ineptitude.
“If I could think of one thing, it’s how we’ve collectively hit with guys in scoring position,” said Martin, who appeared in 137 and 129 games the past two seasons but won’t hit 100 this year. “We had a down year. Trying to find a reason for it though, it’s tough. I think we can do a much better job hitting with guys in scoring position than we have this season.”
The easy road to go down is by analyzing the Jays season-long injury ward. Don’t go there, Martin advises.
“It’s been tough, but every team goes through injuries,” Martin said. “It’s not an excuse. The common thing is to go out there and keep playing, put the teem first and never lose sight of that.
“It’s energizing to see the young kids,” Martin said. “The excitement, you feed off of it. We’ve had some success too and that’s even more important.”
Closer Roberto Osuna, who left the team earlier in the week to return to Mexico for the birth of his child (a girl) rejoined the Jays here in the Twin Cities. Osuna threw on the side prior to the game and is expected to be available on Friday ... Smoak’s homer moved him into solo third in the AL homer race behind the Yankees Aaron Judge and Khris Davis of the A’s ... Gibbons said left fielder Steve Pearce (back) is nearing a return to the lineup and should be good to go at some point this series ... The Jays entered Thursday’s game with a meek 4-10 mark in their past 14 on the road ... Starter Brett Anderson hadn’t allowed a walk in his 17 2/3 innings of work prior to Thursday’s assignment. He went three more in the opener against the Twins before surrendering a base on balls to Eduardo Escobar in the fourth and then walking three consecutive Twins in the fifth. After a two RBI single from Jorge Polanco, Anderson’s day was done with an apparent blister on his throwing hand complicating his efforts.