On Sunday, Martinez cracked a pair of homers and knocked in four more runs in a 13-5 win over the Royals, giving him 12 dingers and a major-league-leading 40 RBIs for the season. He attributes his fast start to finally being relaxed in New York. Last year, having signed a five-year, $20 million contract with the Yankees after they dealt third baseman Russ Davis and lefthanded pitcher Sterling Hitchcock to the Mariners for him, he was pressing at the start of the season. Plus he was replacing longtime Yankees favorite Don Mattingly. "I was trying so hard to hit the ball out that I was barely getting it out of the infield. It was embarrassing," Martinez says.
He started to turn things around with a game-winning, three-run homer against the Orioles on April 30 as the Yankees moved into first place for the first time last season, and he followed that with a 15th-inning grand slam the next night. He went on to hit .292 with 25 homers and 117 RBIs.
He's picked up this year right where he left off last season, though he still can't forget his awful postseason, when he hit only .188 and was benched in Game 5 of the World Series. "If we hadn't won it all," he says. "I probably would still feel like I had something to prove."
The Drought Continues
On May 5, 1987, 10 years ago this week, diminutive Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard, then with Pittsburgh, hit the first home run of his major league career. He is still working on his second.
Since Belliard went deep against Padres pitcher Eric Show, three players have hit more than 300 homers: Mark McGwire (332), Barry Bonds (320) and Fred McGriff (320), and another 23 have hit more than 200. Belliard's homer occurred on the 405th at bat of his career, and he has had 1,813 at bats since, becoming only the second major leaguer—pitchers excepted—to endure a full decade without a home run. (Tommy Thevenow went homerless between 1926 and '38.)
For those who saw it, the memory is preserved forever. "The ball cleared the fence by two feet, yet Raffy stood and looked at it like he knew it was gone," says former teammate Andy Van Slyke.
The most amazing aspect of Belliard's feat may not be that he has yet to hit another homer but that he is still around trying. He has carved out a remarkable career, surviving 15 major league seasons despite averaging fewer than 10 RBIs per year. Though the Braves, whom Belliard joined after leaving the Pirates in '91, have used him primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement, he is considered a good-luck charm. He is the only major leaguer to have played on a division champion for six straight nonstrike seasons since baseball switched to divisional play in '69.
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