Struggles taught star ‘how to fail’
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.”
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.”