Martinez fac­ing for­mer team as Red Sox take on Astros in ALCS

The Daily Courier - - 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 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 AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against his for­mer team.

“My fail­ures in Hous­ton is what made me who I am,” Martinez said Fri­day be­fore the Astros and Red Sox open the best-of-seven se­ries tonight. “There’s re­ally no an­i­mos­ity there. In a sense, they did me a favour by al­low­ing me to leave and play on an­other team.”

It will be the sec­ond straight year the Red Sox and Astros meet in the post-sea­son — last year it was the ALDS — and the sec­ond straight 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 big-league 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 homers with 91 RBIs 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 homers with 102 RBIs. He hit 45 homers last year, when he was traded from the Tigers to Di­a­mond­backs and was 14th in MVP vot­ing de­spite play­ing just 62 games in the NL.

“I al­ways be­lieved he’s 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 off-sea­son, 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.”

Now Martinez is one of the keys — with Mookie Betts, who is ex­pected to edge him for the AL MVP award — on a Red Sox team that won a third straight AL East ti­tle but ad­vanced in the play­offs for the first time since 2013, elim­i­nat­ing the ri­val New York Yan­kees in the ALDS.

The Cen­tral Di­vi­sion cham­pion Astros did OK, too, win­ning their first World Se­ries last year with Springer as the Se­ries MVP.

So, no hard feel­ings.

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