Martin, Wolf end Dodgers' skid
Catcher's two-run homer provides winning run over Brewers
LOS ANGELES -- Mike Piazza had the Hall of Fame bat, Steve Yeager the cannon arm, Mike Scioscia the leadership, John Roseboro the Gold Glove, Paul Lo Duca the determination.
But as Los Angeles Dodgers catchers go, could any of them win a game in more ways than Russell Martin?
He teamed with Randy Wolf to beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night, 3-2, the Dodgers snapping a four-game losing streak as Martin drove in two runs with a fourth-inning homer off Ben Sheets after creating the other run with a walk and a stolen base.
"He's the total package," Dodgers veteran Luis Gonzalez said of Martin. "He can throw, he can hit, he can run, he's knowledgeable, he takes control of a game talking to the pitchers. That's the sign of a guy who's going to be around a long time."
Voters for the All-Star team might be interested to note that Martin leads National League catchers in average (.312), runs scored (28), RBIs (28), steals (eight), walks (19) and hits (48).
Martin made the highlights with his homer and Wolf made it stand up, scattering three hits over seven innings, then turning it over to Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito. The former hit 99 mph while striking out two in an inning, the latter picked up his 14th save this year and 24th in a row, while Wolf (6-3) became the Dodgers' first six-game winner.
But Martin's second-inning run might have been more impressive than any of it. He walked with one out and Sheets tried three pickoffs to keep Martin close to first, yet the second-year catcher still stole his eighth base of the season, four behind Roseboro's single-season Los Angeles record for a catcher.
"I never was a basestealer, but it's become part of my game," said Martin, who led National League catchers with 10 steals in his rookie season last year.
"I worked hard on it in the offseason, working on my running technique. A lot of it is mechanical for explosiveness. We don't have a bunch of guys banging homers right now, so we have to manufacture runs, and this is a good way to do it. If I think I can take a bag, I'll take it."
While that run was hard-earned, it also was part gift, as Gonzalez should have been erased after Martin's steal on a foul popup to catcher Johnny Estrada. But Estrada dropped the ball, extending the at-bat, and Gonzalez's soft liner found empty real estate in spite of the dramatic shift toward right field employed by the Brewers' defense, scoring Martin from second.
"It's hard to win games when your team isn't the one getting breaks, but today we did and we took advantage of it," said Martin. "We hadn't been scoring first in those games we lost."
Gonzalez said he appreciates Martin's importance more now that he sees him play daily, but Martin was already on his radar from what he saw last year as an opponent with Arizona.
"When you get to my age, you become an observer and pick out young guys to watch and I remember coming to the plate last year after we played a 16-inning game, and he played every inning, and there he is behind the plate," said Gonzalez. "The guy didn't want the day off. That earns your respect. That sealed the deal. Even our manager [Bob Melvin], a former catcher, was raving about him. The more you're around him, the more you realize he's such a valuable commodity to this team."
Martin's homer in the fourth followed Jeff Kent's double, and the Dodgers offense fell back into its funk, as the final 15 batters were retired. So, it was up to Wolf and the bullpen to contain the Brewers, who hammered out nine runs the night before.
Wolf struggled through a 27-pitch first inning, but he got Kevin Mench on three ground balls, which was a more meaningful achievement than the box score might indicate.
"I lost to them the first week of the year and learned a lesson in that game," said Wolf. "Kevin Mench hit a first-pitch slider for a two-run homer and because of that we didn't win and I replayed that pitch 100 times in my mind. I didn't want to repeat that tonight."
The game marked the Major League debut of Tony Abreu, called up earlier in the day. He started at third base and got his first error out of the way on the first play of the game with a wild throw. He handled his other four chances without incident and went 0-for-3 with one hard-hit lineout.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.