It seemed like any other blow-out game in major league baseball. On July 10, 2011, the Phillies walloped the Atlanta Braves 14-1. And, like blowouts that have come before it, there were hitters who had banner days. John Mayberry Jr. had three doubles and 4 RBI. Domonic Brown went 3-for-5 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBI.
But perhaps most surprising on that day (though hardly surprising in retrospect) was Michael Martinez's day. On that Sunday, Martinez collected 4 hits -- more than he had in the month of April or June and only 2 fewer than he had in May. He also scored 2 runs, also more than he scored in all of April. And he had an acrobatic play at third base, almost falling head first into the Braves' dugout to catch a foul pop.
Little did fans know at the time, but that game would start the amazing run we've seen from Martinez ever since. The story is familiar to us now. Later that week, the Phillies got news that Placido Polanco's back problem was worse than expected, and he would miss the remainder of the season. The gasp from the city's fans was louder than the boos when Chipper Jones steps to the plate.
But they were wrong. In a move that shocked the world, angered the blog lords at The Good Phight more than the trade of Bobby Abreu for a bag of tennis balls, and saw Charlie Manuel almost run out of town by a mob, Martinez was named the everyday starter. "Can't be much worse than that big-head guy has been since May 1," said Manuel.
Martinez, buoyed by his July 10 performance, took the bull by the proverbial horns and became the player we know today. He spent the rest of the season on fire. In the team's remaining 72 games, he hit .394/.435/.470 with a remarkable 10 triples. Moved to the #2 slot in the lineup, Martinez scored an incredible 82 runs in the second half of the season. He took a -0.1 WAR into the All-Star Break but ended the season with a 3.7 WAR. His gaudy numbers won him Rookie of the Year honors.
In the post-season, he kept up his incredible performance. He scored the winning run in the extra-innings NLCS clincher for the Phils on an inside-the-park home run and was named World Series MVP for having a multi-hit game in each of the 5 games, including his 5 hit performance in game 2 and his 3 hit performance in the clincher. He scored 18 runs in the playoffs and had an overall OBP of .645.
By the end of October, everyone knew Michael Martinez's name.
But in the off-season, the doubters appeared. TGP's schmenkman argued that Martinez was extremely lucky on balls in play. FuquaManuel claimed that his WAR overvalued him as a singles hitter who can occasionally pop one through the gap for a triple. By the start of spring training, everyone predicted a fall from grace for Martinez.
That never happened though. Polanco's back healed in the off-season, but he was named a super-sub at the end of spring training, as Manuel didn't want to give up on Martinez.
And Martinez delivered once again. In fact, his first half of 2012 was better than his final half of 2011. At the All-Star Break, his batting average was over .400 (.405), and he had learned to take a walk, putting his OBP at .510. His power still hadn't appeared, but his speed on the paths gave him a .553 SLG.
What really captivated the nation though was Martinez's quest to dethrone Joe DiMaggio and his consecutive hit record. Martinez started the season hitting in 53 straight games, falling 3 games short of DiMaggio's record when he was intentionally walked 3 times in the 54th game and called out on a close call for his only official at-bat. Everyone knows that officially he didn't break the record, but unofficially, counting the playoffs, Martinez had hit in 62 straight games. Phillies fans, who had grown to love him like Rocky Balboa, argued to have his name put in the record books with an asterisk.
Martinez is appearing in his first All-Star game as the NL starter. He had more votes than any other NL hitter this year, with a final vote count of 7,291,098. Only Derek Jeter (hitting .194/.203/.244 at the Break) had more votes.