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Martinez rescues Yankees

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By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 1, 2001


NEW YORK -- The talk is the Yankees have no place for Tino Martinez beyond this postseason. If that is so, he at least has a spot in Yankee lore.

All it took was one swing. One swing that will forever remind New Yorkers that Martinez understood what Yankee pride meant.

When David Justice went invisible, when Bernie Williams looked more like a whiner than a winner, it was Martinez who grabbed fate by the throat.

All it took was one swing.

In announcing the game's particulars in the moments after New York's 4-3 10-inning victory in Game 4, the official scorekeeper said Mariano Rivera got the win, Byung-Hyun Kim took the loss and there was no save.

That is factual, but not necessarily true. Martinez saved the game. As surely as Jeter won it in the 10th with a home run, Martinez saved it in the ninth. And, in the process, probably saved New York's season.

The Yankees were beaten. That seemed obvious to everyone in the park. They had shown they were incapable of hurting Curt Schilling and seemed destined to end their dynasty with a modicum of fight.

They had not sent more than four batters to the plate in any one inning during the entire night. When Martinez arrived at the plate in the ninth, he was practically, if not literally, New York's last hope for the Series.

The Yankees trailed 3-1 in the game and were about to trail 3-1 in the Series if Martinez made the last out.

All it took was one swing.

Martinez's home run to centerfield will rank among the grandest moments in Series history, let alone Yankees lore. It had been 72 years since a team had come from behind trailing by two or more runs in the ninth to win a World Series game.

"Tino has been there for us for six years," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I know he's hit some big home runs for us. He had the grand slam in the '98 Series. But this one, I think if you ask him, this is the biggest one he's ever hit."

His profile is lower than most of his teammates. He is not the matinee idol that Jeter plays or the grizzled veteran that Paul O'Neill has become. Martinez, a native of Tampa, is quiet by nature and humble beyond words.

But New York's run of World Series titles began the same year Martinez arrived in town and, because of him, it may continue in what could be his final year here.

It was Martinez who started the Yankees toward the World Series championship in 1998 with a grand slam in the seventh inning of a tied game against the Padres.

And he struck again on Wednesday on the first pitch from Kim. Up to that point, Martinez was oh-for-the-Series.

"Tino came up with a huge home run for us," Jeter said. "We were down to our final out. That was huge."

Despite his 34 home runs and 113 RBI in the regular season, the word in New York is that Martinez is on his way out of town. He will be 34 in December and is in the final year of his contract.

More to the point, Oakland first baseman Jason Giambi is about to hit the free-agent market. A story in Wednesday's New York Post said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has given the front office his blessing to pursue Giambi after the end of the Series.

It is not Martinez's nature to rant or gloat. He has said little about the possibility of leaving New York and seemed utterly focused on the Series.

"I'm just thinking about Game 5, that's my focus," Martinez said. "We have a chance to win our fifth World Series. I don't want to overlook that and look ahead. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment."

The Diamondbacks were one out from a 3-1 Series lead because Curt Schilling demanded the ball. And now they find themselves in a tie at 2 because manager Bob Brenly took the ball away.

Every indicator, every sign, every statistic that was hurled in Brenly's face said Schilling should not be moved up in the rotation to pitch Game 4 Wednesday night.

Schilling never had thrown on three days' rest in his life. Recent history claimed starters do not fare well in the postseason when used without their normal four days off. But Brenly bowed to Schilling's wishes and allowed him to start.

Schilling, for the second time in four days, held New York to three hits and one run in seven innings. But Brenly decided Kim should close it and now the door has swung back open for the Yankees.

Martinez never had faced Kim, so he ran into the clubhouse in the eighth inning to watch Kim up close on television for a mini scouting report.

"I saw a fastball and a slider, so I went up there looking for a fastball in the middle of the plate," Martinez said. "Something I could drive out."

All it took was one swing.

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