Begrudging the grudge
Motivation there in rematch with Astros
Holding grudges is not in the best interests for anyone’s long-term health.
But in a postseason baseball series? The bigger the chip on the shoulder, the better for everybody.
The power of a grudge is never to be underestimated, and this Red SoxAstros series contains enough edginess to make sure the “mutual respect” and “two best teams in baseball” and “Alex Cora loves everybody on the Astros and vice versa” storylines don’t soak us all with syrupy sweetness. Start with J.D. Martinez. At the end of spring training in 2014, the Astros ran out of faith and patience with Martinez and released him just after he told them he spent all winter revamping his swing. They didn’t believe him. The Tigers did and the rest is history — 171 home runs and .958 OPS over his past five seasons.
Martinez has said he has gotten over using the Astros release as motivational fuel. But he sure didn’t deny that it’s brought him to this stage, making it easier to use this series as the ultimate opportunity for a big fat “told you so.”
“How much does it drive me? I think my failures in Houston is what made me who I am,” said Martinez yesterday. “I think it’s given me that drive, that drive to keep working, because you never know what can happen type deal. As far as it being Houston, no, really, I mean, I learned a lot from Houston. And you know what, it made me who I am and there’s really no animosity there.
“In a sense they did me a favor by allowing me to leave and going to play on another team. And if it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Who knows where I would have been?”
That’s easy to answer. Martinez would be exactly where he is now, in Boston, except in an Astros uniform and as their DH, if they had known who they had on their hands.
Then there’s Chris Sale. In his postseason debut last year, Sale pitched like David Price and got pummeled by the Astros in Game 1 for seven runs and three homers. He redeemed himself somewhat in Game 4 as a reliever, and then acquitted himself well in this year’s Division Series as a starter and reliever against the New York Yankees. But what about payback for Game 1 last year?
“Like I’ve been saying the whole time, just keep playing the same game, not trying to reach for more, not trying to be better than I am,” said Sale. “We shouldn’t play as a team like that either.”
The Red Sox seem to be a little touchy about so many in the media doubting their chances after the Yankees took Game 2. But what rubbed more salt in their imaginary wounds was when the Yanks’ Aaron Judge walked past the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park with a speaker playing “New York, New York” after Game 2.
Barely noticed the slight was their mantra, but then what song did the Red Sox turn up high at the beginning of their Division Series clinching party in the Yankees clubhouse? You guessed it.
It’s doubtful if the Astros have somebody cheeky enough to do what Judge did, but what song would the Sox play in case of a victory over Houston?
“No songs,” said Mookie Betts, before changing his mind and goading Martinez, telling him “You should know the song.”
Martinez remembered with a laugh.
“What’s their song, ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’? I don’t know. Probably not.”
Maybe not a song. But motivation. You find it where you can and you use it. Sometimes it works.
“There’s been a few things in the playoffs that I lived through it,” said manager Alex Cora. “Cleveland decided (in 2007 ALCS vs. the Sox) to bring (Sox pitcher Josh) Beckett’s ex-girlfriend (to sing the national anthem) in Game 5, I think it was. That didn’t work out. And I don’t know about the song. But that’s for the players to talk about. I know they had a great time after we clinched to play the music. I don’t know. It was funny.
“But I think at the end if you need motivation at this time, you’re playing the wrong sport. You’ve got a chance to win four games and go to the World Series and win eight games and get a ring and, like I joked with them, but it’s true, that check in December is a good one. You know?”
Plain old revenge for last year’s Division Series should, in theory, be more than enough of a grudge.
“It’s what you play for,” said Cora. “Your offseason workouts and then spring training and then 162 games and you put yourself in a situation that you either win 11 games in October ... and you can say that you play for the best team in baseball. That’s the only motivation you need. And our guys are locked in with that. They understand that.”
NO LOOKING BACK: J.D. Martinez, who was released by the Astros in 2014, hopes to do damage against his former team as the Red Sox DH starting tonight.