October 18, 2013 at 1:10 am

Lynn Henning

Victor Martinez's resurgence simply amazing for Tigers

Jim Leyland on ALCS Game 5
Jim Leyland on ALCS Game 5: Tigers manager discusses problems in the loss to Boston

Detroit ó Overflow from Thursday nightís match at Comerica Park, which saw the Red Sox trip the Tigers, 4-3, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and move to within a game of the World Series.

Victor Martinez proves hitting is easy if youíre superhuman.

We need to pause for a moment as the Tigers and Red Sox migrate to Fenway Park. In the way that contemplatives ponder deities, or cosmic forces, or souls and spirits, itís not a bad move to at least dwell on how a 34-year-old switch-hitter so consistently mashes big-league hits.

And that might be the most awesome of Martinezís tricks these past four months. Itís the reality, visible to anyone who has watched him, that he does not just hit a baseball, but that he hits 90-plus-mph pitches of every extraction and gyration so positively perfectly.

Get a handle on these month-by-month numbers, although itís a daunting exercise:


July: Martinez batted a mere .390 in 26 games and 112 plate appearances. He had an Olympic-medal-grade OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.010.


August: Martinez was so embarrassed by how easy that .390 clip made big-league batting appear, he backed off to .386 in 29 games and 127 plate appearances. He had 13 RBIs after racking up 20 in July.


September: Martinez became relatively human. He came in with a .315 average in 25 games. He had three home runs and six doubles. The numbers were better when measured against the remainder of the Tigers lineup, which mostly acted as if September was a vacation month.

Martinez batted .368 during the seasonís second half, which was something of a personal obligation if he wanted to stay true to that career batting average of .303 he brought into the 2013 season.

Of course, he finished the year at .301, which earlier in the season looked about as plausible as Brandon Inge returning to Detroit and displacing Cabrera at third base.

But this goes beyond numbers. This gets to the heart of Martinezís craft, which for the past 20 or so weeks has been an exercise in disbelief.

Notice him during virtually every at-bat. The crouch. The fixation on pitcher and pitch. And then, in one flashbulb-like millisecond, the blur of his bat on, and through, a pitch most mortals would be lucky to touch.

He has seemingly hit every ball on the nose. Everything centered. Everything ripped, even when they havenít gone for hits, as was the case in the eighth inning Thursday, when he drilled a one-hop bullet Mike Napoli was able to glove at first base for an unassisted put-out.

Of course, he had earlier notched a single, to go with a walk that turned into the Tigersí second run of the night.

That has been Martinez, even through the playoffs, which saw him batting .400 as he got ready for his next exercise in artistry Thursday night.

This is a story about more than a sublime hitter and his half-season exploits. Itís a comeback tale, extraordinary in that even a hitter as gifted as Martinez had to deal with a potentially destructive full-season layoff from the big-league stage.

It was never expected Martinez would simply lose it during his 2012 hiatus, brought on by a knee torn during a January, 2012, workout in Orlando.

But even the people who knew him and his talents best ó his bosses ó had to allow for the reality he was older and that big-league pitching is merciless in its everyday fury.

There has been his triumph in 2013, every bit as much as those gaudy numbers. He brushed aside age. He dismissed a yearís sabbatical. He acted as if 2013 was almost restorative, at least by the time in late spring when he found his stroke.

The Tigers did deft work in analyzing and signing Martinez three years ago. There were wise baseball professionals who werenít sure a four-year, $50-million contract was the best use of resources when Martinez would be swinging a bat at age 35 during the contractís final season.

But the guys who signed off on the investment had it right all along. This man wielding a bat at the plate during these final months has been akin to watching a Renaissance artist at work.

He has made the most difficult task in all of sports look manageable. And it has been marvelous to behold.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/Lynn_Henning

Detroit's Jose Iglesias, left, congratulates teammate Victor Martinez after Martinez was batted home by Brayan Pena in the sixth inning Thursday night. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News