USA TODAY US Edition
Goldschmidt, Martinez duo powers D’backs
J.D. Martinez didn’t need Paul Goldschmidt to complete his stunning reclamation, and Goldschmidt didn’t need Martinez to become one of the game’s greatest players.
Yet here they are, two months after becoming teammates with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they have no idea how great they’d be right now without each other.
Goldschmidt, 30, was already a five-time All-Star first baseman before Martinez’s arrival, but Martinez is not only giving Goldschmidt a chance to reach the postseason for the first time since his rookie season but also win his first National League MVP Award.
Martinez, 30, was already going to be a highly paid free agent outfielder at the season’s conclusion, but it’s Goldschmidt who is helping him become richer than he ever dreamed, producing numbers that has captured everyone’s attention.
Together, they have the Diamondbacks on the brink of their first playoff berth since 2011, going into Monday with an 81⁄ 2- game lead to clinch a wild-card berth and a fivegame bulge over the Colorado Rockies to have the wild-card game played at home.
They have become the Diamondbacks’ most dynamic duo since the days of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, only mortifying teams at the plate instead of on the mound.
Martinez and Goldschmidt entered Monday night’s game at San Diego having combined for 37 home runs and 89 RBI since playing their first game together July 19 after Martinez was traded from the Detroit Tigers. Martinez, with 24 homers, including a four-homer game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, has hit the secondmost homers in the majors since his arrival, with 51 RBI, a .732 slugging percentage and 1.090 OPS.
Monday, Martinez earned his fourth league Player of the Week honor - two each with the Tigers and Diamondbacks - from Major League Baseball, the first to rack up so many since the award began in 1973.
“I don’t know the history of baseball, but I think you can put (Martinez) up there as one of the best midseason trades that’s ever been made,” Arizona reliever Archie Bradley said. “Every homer is getting more expensive. Hopefully he likes us a lot and wants to stay here.
“And if you were going to mold what you want a major league player to look like, act like, speak like, I’ve got to go with No. 44. He’s the perfect guy. I mean, I can only think of one flaw he’s really got.”
“Goldy is a nerd. I mean, he’s a complete nerd,” Bradley says, stroking his long flowing beard. “I say that in the most positive way possible, but Goldy is a nerd.”
Well, nerd meet nerd. It’s as if Goldschmidt and Martinez are brothers from a different mother, born just 20 days apart. While Goldschmidt is considered a hitting savant, Martinez is the nutty professor, bringing notecards to the bench, studying them be- fore each at-bat and jotting down notes after each game.
“I love talking about hitting. Love it. All of the time,” Martinez says. “I can’t talk about it enough. If anybody wants to talk about hitting, I’ll always talk to them about it. Love it.”
So imagine what it’s like seeing Martinez and Goldschmidt huddling during games, talking philosophy, strategy and mechanics.
“They’re always talking about the process,” manager Torey Lovullo says. “I’ll walk in and I’ll see J.D. writing notes down what he did in his book. I’d love to see what’s in there.”
Goldschmidt doesn’t keep a book or bring notecards to the bench, instead choosing to tuck everything away upstairs.
“Sometimes I wonder how he can have so much information in his brain,” Martinez says. “I’m worried about the pitcher tonight, and he’s talking about the long-inning man in the bullpen and his move to second base. I don’t know how he does it, but I love it.”
It was just three years ago when Martinez was released from the Houston Astros. Martinez had gone to winter ball in Venezuela, overhauled his swing and pleaded with the Astros before spring training in
2014 to give him a chance. He insisted that he was a different hitter from the guy who hit .250 with a .650 OPS and seven homers the previous year. They listened but didn’t pay attention, giving him 18 at-bats that spring.
The Astros released him on March
22, 2014. The Tigers signed him two days later. A star was born, just a little later in life.
“I told them, ‘Let me just show you what I learned.’ I knew it was going to work,” Martinez says. “I mean, from my first BP with my new swing, I was like, ‘Holy ... this is it.’ My friends watching me said, ‘This isn’t just a swing that you’re going to make a career off of, this is going to put you on the map.’ But those guys already had their mind made up.”
It’s not a decision that necessarily haunts the Astros, not after winning the AL West title on Sunday, but certainly a cruel reminder of the need for patience.
“You always hear players come to camp,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow says, “and they’ll tell you, ‘Oh, I’m going to do better this year. I did some things in the offseason.’ Well, we didn’t give him enough at-bats during spring training to show what he could do. Our staff didn’t play him enough.
“We called all of the teams before releasing him. ‘Anybody want this guy? Anybody.’ Everybody said no. And I didn’t think it was fair to him to send him back to Triple-A, so we released him.”
Luhnow, who says he still roots for Martinez, shakes his head and says, “If I could take that one back, I would take it back in a heartbeat.”
Goldschmidt was already an MVP candidate before Martinez’s arrival, but now he’s having the best season of his career, hitting .308 with 35 homers and 115 RBI and a .998 OPS, ranking among the top five in nine offensive categories. Martinez, who became the 16th player in history to hit four homers in one game, is hitting .297 with 40 homers and 90 RBI. Since joining the D’backs, he has 24 homers and 51 RBI in 190 at-bats, setting a franchise record for the most homers since the All-Star break.
There’s a bonus to all this, too, the D’backs will tell you, and the benefactor is Goldschmidt. He twice has finished runner-up in the NL MVP race. This year, he might win it.
“It would mean everything to us,” catcher Chris Iannetta says, “because of what kind of person he is. He’s carried us all season. His biggest flaw is that he’s so humble and quiet and just flies under the radar.”
Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and Lovullo, who came from the Boston Red Sox last winter, certainly were familiar with Goldschmidt’s exploits but had no idea of his virtues until being with him every day. Hazen likens Goldschmidt to David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
Says Lovullo: “I don’t know any other way of saying this, but I’m honored to be in his presence. I’m honored to sit in the same dugout. I’m honored to have conversations with him. He’s an amazing player, but as great as he is, the person somehow even supersedes that.”
The D’backs recognize the urgency to take advantage of this window. Martinez will be a marquee free agent this winter, and although the D’backs would love to keep him, the reality is that it’s highly unlikely they can afford him.
Besides, it would look awfully strange for the D’backs to empty their checkbook for Martinez when Goldschmidt is saddled with the worst contract in baseball among position players. He signed a five-year, $32 million contract in 2013 that pays him $8.75 million this year, $11 million in 2018 and includes a $14.5 million option in 2019.