Perhaps Russell Martin's signing was lost on casual fans, those too consumed by the Yankees' perceived failure to lure Cliff Lee to the Bronx. But in only two weeks, the 28-year-old catcher has proved he's more than just a consolation prize.
Martin hasn't faltered beneath the media's harsh glare or the aura of Yankee Stadium. Instead, he's thrived in it.
He's batting .289 (48 points higher than Derek Jeter and 69 more than Mark Teixeira), and in 13 games already has four home runs -- one shy of his 2010 total (97 games). Martin's latest clutch moment came Sunday night, when his two-run, fifth-inning homer tied the score in a 6-5 win over the Rangers, the defending American League champs.
The easygoing Martin explained his sudden success with a new team in simple terms. The former Dodger said he doesn't try to do too much at the plate and is focused on only one thing: "I just want to win."
He said he isn't worried by those who questioned the Yankees' decision to sign a catcher whose struggles at the plate because of injuries were well-publicized. The only person he's trying to impress is himself.
"I don't really feel old. I don't really feel beat up," said Martin, who, after the Dodgers refused to raise his salary, signed with the Yankees for less money. "I'm healed from my injuries. I feel back in shape. I expect good things out of myself and I'm just trying to control what I can control. And the rest, I don't really worry about. I'm having fun playing baseball and playing hard."
He's also quick to point out that, contrary to popular belief, he's had only one surgery -- a simple knee "cleanup." The torn labrum in his right hip healed on its own, he said.
"You guys can't always believe what you read in the paper," he said with a laugh.
Martin, a 2007 Gold Glove winner, has impressed those around him with his work ethic and attention to detail as he gets to know the pitching staff.
"It wasn't like he was in the same division as us, so he was coming in learning everything new," Joba Chamberlain said. "He's done a tremendous job. He works hard back there. It's nice to be able to throw to someone who takes pride in what they do.
"He studies guys, he knows what's going on. We've been on the same page pretty much the whole year, knock on wood."
When manager Joe Girardi sees the 5-10, 230-pound Martin, he says he can't help but think of a fullback "going to pound into the line of scrimmage" But that physique, sculpted with the help of MMA trainer Jonathan Chambers, is offset by a softer, quiet side.
"Sometimes when you see a guy with his stature, sometimes you think they can get hotheaded," Girardi said. "But he's pretty laid back and he's able to control his emotions and go about his business really well."