Strug­gles taught star ‘how to fail’

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

BOS­TON — J.D. Martinez wants to thank the Hous­ton Astros — not get back at them — for re­leas­ing him when he was strug­gling to make him­self into a star.

The Bos­ton Red Sox slug­ger cred­its his grow­ing pains in Hous­ton for teach­ing him “how to fail,” a les­son he cred­its with trans­form­ing him into an MVP can­di­date who helped Bos­ton win a fran­chise-record 108 games and reach the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against his for­mer team.

“My fail­ures in Hous­ton are what made me who I am,” Martinez said Fri­day, a day be­fore the Astros and Red Sox open the best-of-seven se­ries. “There’s re­ally no

an­i­mos­ity there. In a sense they did me a fa­vor by al­low­ing me to leave and play on an­other team.”

It will be the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year the Red Sox and Astros meet in the post­sea­son — last year it was the ALDS — and the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year that aces Chris Sale will go against Justin Ver­lan­der in the opener.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence this time: Bos­ton has Martinez on its side.

And the Astros could have. Martinez made his bigleague de­but for Hous­ton in 2011, driv­ing in 28 runs in his first full month in the ma­jors. Af­ter play­ing part time the next two years — hit­ting 18 home runs with 91 RBI in 199 games — he was 26 years old and bat­ting .167 in the spring of 2014 when the Astros re­leased him, pre­fer­ring to give the at-bats to top prospect Ge­orge Springer.

Martinez landed with De­troit that sea­son and by 2015 he was an All-Star, hit­ting 38 home runs with 102 RBI. He hit 45 home runs last year, when he was traded from the Tigers to the Di­a­mond­backs and was 14th in MVP vot­ing de­spite play­ing just 62 games in the NL.

“I al­ways be­lieved he was go­ing to be the player he is right now,” said Astros sec­ond base­man Jose Al­tuve, the reign­ing AL MVP, who came up through the mi­nors with Martinez. “He got a cou­ple of tough years with us in the big leagues. But I think the best thing that hap­pened to him was go­ing to the Tigers and be­com­ing the player that he is.”

Ver­lan­der was Martinez’s team­mate in De­troit and said he was “there from the mo­ment he turned his ca­reer around.”

“He went and com­pletely re­vamped his swing that off­sea­son, and saw im­me­di­ate div­i­dends,” Ver­lan­der said. “[He] never stopped hit­ting. See­ing some­body like that who works so hard and turned their ca­reer around to where he’s at now, as a fel­low player, you re­spect it and I’m happy for him. I re­ally am.”

The Cen­tral Di­vi­sion cham­pion Astros did OK, too, win­ning their first World Se­ries last year; Springer was Se­ries MVP.

So, no hard feel­ings. “God gave me an­other op­por­tu­nity and put me in a good sit­u­a­tion with De­troit. And that’s kind of where I con­tin­ued to grow un­til where I am to­day, re­ally,” Martinez said. “And if it wasn’t for that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be here right now. Who knows where I would have been?”

Tonight’s opener will be a re­match of Game 1 of the ALDS last year, when the Astros jumped on Sale for seven runs in five in­nings, in­clud­ing back-to-back home runs by Alex Breg­man and Al­tuve in the first. Al­tuve added an­other home run in the fifth.

“Ob­vi­ously, the win­ner of this one goes to the World Se­ries,” Sale said. “We know who we’re up against. He’s ob­vi­ously one of the best around, and re­ally good in the post­sea­son.”

AP/FRANK FRANKLIN II

Bos­ton Red Sox out­fielder J.D. Martinez holds no hard feel­ings to­ward the Hous­ton Astros, who re­leased him in 2014. Martinez, who has be­come one of the game’s top power hit­ters since then, said the Astros “did me a fa­vor by al­low­ing me to leave and play on an­other team.”

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