Russell Martin couldn't help himself when he saw the crowd of microphones, notepads and recorders gathered around his locker after the Yankees' improbable 6-5 comeback win over the Angels Friday night in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,873 that had roared its approval of the .181 hitter moments earlier.
"I wonder how many of you guys wished they would pinch hit for me there," Martin said with a smile that reflected the weight lifted off his psyche.
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Of course, he was referring to the go-ahead single he delivered with two outs in the bottom of the eighth after Mark Teixeira's three-run blast earlier in the inning had tied the score at 5.
Until that point, it seemed as if the Angels were firmly in control with a 5-2 lead when starter C.J. Wilson was replaced by Scott Downs to start the eighth. But Derek Jeter doubled, Curtis Granderson walked and Teixeira hit his second home run of the night. It gave him five RBIs in the game and four homers and 15 RBIs in his last seven games.
Downs then got two outs before walking Nick Swisher, who was replaced by pinch runner Dewayne Wise. Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in righty Kevin Jepsen, who intentionally walked pinch hitter Raul Ibañez to get to the slumping Martin.
Asked if he would have pinch hit for himself in that spot, Martin said, "Hell, no." But the backward glance he shot toward the dugout before heading to the plate suggested he had considered the possibility.
"I had no thoughts of pinch hitting there," Joe Girardi said.
It was a welcome vote of confidence for Martin, who threw a mini-tantrum in Boston before the All-Star break when Girardi pinch hit for him with Alex Rodriguez last Saturday night. Martin swears the display had nothing to do with Girardi's decision and everything to do with his own frustration about losing.
But the two had a heart-to-heart the next day when Girardi sat Martin for the final game before the break. "We talked that it starts all over," Girardi said. "I thought it was important for him to reflect on some things and try to put it behind him."
Martin knows it's next to impossible to salvage his batting average this season, but he believes he has much more to contribute. He started by slicing a line-drive single down the rightfield line off Jepsen's 97-mph fastball to drive in the go-ahead run.
"It feels good," Martin understated. Regarding his chat with Girardi, he added, "He felt it was necessary, and it kind of fired me up a bit. It worked . . . I'm sure his patience was wearing thin, and that's why we had the talk. When you're not hitting, it's not fun to play the game."
The Yankees also got terrific defensive plays from Teixeira, Swisher on Mark Trumbo's drive to the rightfield wall and even Hiroki Kuroda. He allowed five runs in 71/3 innings, including a three-run shot by Trumbo and a solo homer by Erick Aybar.
But the deciding hit was Martin's single. "Mentally, I was beating myself up," he said. "I was 0-for-30 at one point. It feels like half the season when you're doing that. You're reminded of it every day. That's your [reporters'] job."
He was laughing heartily with the group of reporters surrounding him. He had been too long without laughter, and it felt good.