Kansas City, Mo. — The knees may go wonky on him now and then, but the memory never falters — especially the baseball memory.
Victor Martinez was asked if he remembered his last, and only other, three-home run game.
“In Seattle in my first full season,” he said. “It was the same as today, two right-handed and one left-handed. The only difference was in that one, I went 5-for-5 with seven RBIs. What else do you want to know?”
That was July 16, 2004. Twelve years later, on a hot and steamy night in Kansas City, Martinez blasted three home runs again, helping power the Tigers past the Royals, 10-4, on Thursday.
“It definitely felt pretty good,” said Martinez, who didn’t start in the three games in Chicago after getting a cortisone shot in his ailing right knee. “The ball was carrying, for sure. But the most important thing is we put a good game out there and got a win.”
The Tigers hit a season-high six home runs, tying the single-game record at Kauffman Stadium. Miguel Cabrera’s two-run shot to right field broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh.
Nick Castellanos and James McCann both blasted 410-foot-plus shots to center field. McCann’s tied the score in the seventh.
“It was a battle game,” Ian Kinsler said. “I doesn’t look like it at the end, but we had to battle. They put up a good fight, obviously. And (Justin) Verlander did an unbelievable job keeping us in the game.”
Beating the Royals at Kauffman Stadium is no easy feat. They had won nine straight and are now 22-8 at home.
“It was a pretty funny game, really,” said Verlander, who pitched seven gritty innings, allowing four runs and eight hits to improve to 7-5. “There have been starts where I gave up a bunch of hard-hit balls and no runs. In this one there were two hard-hit balls, by the nine-hole hitter (Brett Eibner), and I give up four runs.
“But I can’t say enough how we grinded against their bullpen.”
The Tigers scored seven runs in the final three innings off Luke Hochevar, Peter Moylan and Chien-Ming Wang.
“It wasn’t a great feeling in the dugout the first two innings,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It seemed like everything was moving under water. But they kept plugging away and the bats came alive.”
The final run of the game was Martinez’s third homer, the only one from the left side, in the ninth.
“It’s fun, it doesn’t matter what side you hit it from,” he said. “And it’s a lot more fun when you win.”
None of the three home runs were cheap. Combined, they totaled 1,207 feet. He is the first Tiger to hit a home run from each side of the plate in the same game since Carlos Guillen did it in 2009.
“You aren’t going to see something like that very often,” Ian Kinsler said. “A guy hitting three homers in a game, one from each side of the plate. I’m not sure how many times that’s happened, but it can’t be a lot.”
Martinez said he thought the cortisone shot made a big difference.
“I hope (the knee) stays quiet,” he said. “I went through this last year (with the left knee) and it’s not fun.”
The win was tinged, though, with the news that right fielder J.D. Martinez will be lost four to six weeks with a broken bone in his right elbow. He suffered the injury in the second inning running into the wall in the right-field corner.
Steven Moya will be recalled from Toledo before the game Friday.