'A class act:' Cleveland bids a fond farewell to Tigers Victor Martinez

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Victor Martinez, center, waves to fans acknowledging his retirement during a pregame ceremony Saturday at Progressive Field.

Cleveland — These are the types of emotional episodes Victor Martinez has been trying to avoid as his 16-year career winds down.

The Cleveland Indians, the organization that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela and brought him to the big leagues in 2002, honored his career, especially the eight seasons he spent with the Indians, in a pregame ceremony Saturday. And it moved him, literally, to tears.

“It definitely means a lot,” Martinez said before Saturday's 15-0 loss. “We had some good years here and I played with some good teammates — C.C. (Sabathia), Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, so many. I remember 2007, we were one game away from the World Series and we couldn’t win one more game.

“But this is the organization that gave me a chance to become a professional baseball player and brought me to the big leagues. It will always be remembered. Like my mom said, ‘We will always have the Indians in our heart.’”

Martinez was a three-time All-Star with the Indians. He won one of his two Silver Slugger awards there. He hit .297 with a .369 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage in those eight seasons. He had an OPS-plus of 120, hitting 103 home runs and knocking in 518 runs.

It was a jolt when he was traded to Boston in the middle of the 2009 season. His manager there, current Indians skipper Terry Francona.

“He’s one of the nicest guys in the game,” Francona said. “One of the most professional hitters and greatest teammates you could want. You could pretty much write anything good and put my name next to it, because that’s how I feel.”

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Victor Martinez waves to the Cleveland Indians crowd after receiving a plaque honoring his announced retirement during a pre-game ceremony on Saturday.

Martinez hit .313 and made another All-Start team in his season and a half in Boston, before he signed with the Tigers — where he’d go on to inflict a lot of damage to Francona’s teams in Cleveland.

“He is one of the best switch-hitters you’ll ever see,” Francona said. “There were sometimes when it looked like he was playing softball. He’d go through those periods where he was just so locked in. When you were with him, it was great.

“When you were against him, it was a bad feeling.”

Francona called Martinez the “perfect hitter” to bat after Miguel Cabrera in a lineup.

“Nobody wanted to pitch to Miggy,” he said. “But if you didn’t, Victor was going to hurt you. It didn’t matter if it was right-handed or left-handed.”

Martinez got two hits and an RBI on Friday night, adding on to the extensive damage he’s done over the years at Progressive Field. Martinez has hit .296 at Progressive in his career. His 289 RBIs rank second among active players, his 499 hits rank third.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has witnessed Martinez do similar damage to his Twins teams at Target Field.

“He’s one of the reasons I’m working for the Detroit Tigers instead of the old team I used to work with,” he joked. “Because when he was here (with the Indians), he killed us. We couldn’t get him out. And when he was with Detroit, he killed us there, too.

“He’s been a great hitter and I am just glad to have him on my side and get to manage the guy at the end of his career, getting to know him. We are all really happy for him. He’s a class act.”

Martinez was doing his level best to stay on his routine Saturday. He did his cage work. He took batting practice on the field. He did his film study. But this wasn’t a normal game for him.

“I just thank God that at this age I am still playing,” he said. “I know I can go home and say I gave everything I had to this game.”

Around the horn

Progressive Field continues to be a cliff dive for Tigers starter Michael Fulmer.

In six starts here in his career, he's been tagged for 27 runs (20 earned) in 25 innings. The eight home runs he's allowed are the most he's allowed in any visiting park.

...Sandy Baez had thrown 10.2 consecutive scoreless innings in his young big-league career. That ended Saturday when Yonder Alonso belted a two-run home run off him in the third inning.

The 10.2-inning scoreless streak was the longest to start a career by a Tigers pitcher since Andy Van Hekken pitched 11 scoreless in September 2008.

...Tigers pitchers combined to throw a season-high tying 201 pitches Saturday. 

...The Tigers were shut out for the 17th time this season.