DETROIT — J.D. Martinez’s return to the Tigers has felt like a fairy-tale scenario, and on Saturday he stamped another memory into his comeback. His throw to home on a single hit in the top of the ninth saved Detroit from facing a tie-game situation in the bottom half, and handed the team another wild win.
For someone who missed seven weeks for a fractured right elbow, Martinez hasn’t missed a beat. He homered in his first at-bat back from the disabled list as a pinch hitter, and has stayed hot. Defensively, he looks like an entirely different fielder, not one with the worst numbers in MLB.
Martinez is finding new and creative ways of imprinting memorable finishes or moments to games. He’s recorded at least one hit in all four games played since returning from the DL, and he’s been on-base at least twice in all three games started.
“It’s been really special,” he said. “It’s been a blessing from God. I finally get to do what I love again, and I think that’s the most satisfying thing about it is being able to go out on the field and play baseball again. It sucks when you can’t play the game you love.”
Offensively, the numbers showed as much. Martinez put up a double on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday drew a walk and singled on Saturday. He’s scored at least once in every game played thus far. He’s seeing the ball just as well as if he’d never left.
Saturday’s highlight wasn’t because of his bat, though. Martinez has one of the best outfield arms in baseball, and he let it show in a crucial moment of the game. Francisco Rodriguez had come on to close out the game with a slim 6-5 lead to work with, and he got the first two outs on five pitches.
For as easy as those first two outs were, though, the game-winner was a battle. Jay Bruce singled on the first pitch and pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza knocked a single on just two pitches, putting two aboard for Travis d’Arnaud with the tying run not far away.
K-Rod needed just 11 pitches to complete the save for a win, but he had to fight to get them, and the last pitch wasn’t for an out. d’Arnaud singled to right and the Mets sent Bruce from second in an attempt to score him and tie the game. Martinez had other ideas, though.
“I was kind of in a way anticipating it a little bit,” Martinez said. “I wasn’t confident that he was really going to drive something over my head, so I kind of just shaded in a little bit more than perhaps they say you should.”
“Anticipating it was really the biggest thing.”
This was the second time since returning that Martinez has made a perfect throw to home from right field, but this one decided the game. It was a one-hopper, but his cannon of a throw was on target and just in time for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to tag Bruce at home.
That version of Martinez is the fielder that fans saw last year. At some point his arm was going to be tested and the moment of truth would paint the picture of just how healthy it is. Saturday answered that by nailing Bruce and locking down a win for Detroit.
Martinez has looked like his old self and then some since returning. It doesn’t appear he’s going to slow down, but when the struggles come — if they do at all — he’s already set high expectations and solidified a storied comeback for the 2016 season.