By Steve Ginsburg
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Russell Martin's contribution to the New York Yankees goes well beyond his batting average, manager Joe Girardi says.
It is a good thing, too, since the seven-year big-league catcher had a career-low .211 batting average during Major League Baseball's (MLB) 2012 regular season.
"It's just not calling games, it's blocking balls, it's throwing base runners out," Girardi told reporters on Tuesday during a conference call.
Girardi insists Martin's play is a chief reason New York won the American League East division this year and are tied with the Baltimore Orioles 1-1 in the American League Division Series (ALDS).
In Sunday's series-opener, the 29-year-old Canadian cracked a ninth inning, belt-high fastball from Orioles All-Star Jim Johnson into the left-field seats to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the game.
The solo shot, Martin's third game-winning homer this season in the ninth inning or later, opened the door for the Yankees, who scored cruised to a 7-2 victory.
But equally important is the way Martin blocked balls at the plate and made a key play throwing a runner out who hit a dribbler in front of the pitcher's mound. When the game is on the line, Martin is at his best, Girardi said.
"Russell is a clutch player," said Girardi. "He's always been a clutch player, and he's always relished the moment, and he's very talented and very skilled.
"It's shown up, especially in the last month of the season in some of the walk off homers that he's had for us."
Girardi said Martin, a three-time All-Star, "cares about winning more than his personal gain" and many of his contributions go unnoticed. It is not hard to be overlooked on a team with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki.
"He's a real team player," Girardi said of Martin. "Everyone as an offensive player wants to feel like they contribute, and when you go through tough times for a substantial period, it can really tax on you. I never saw it.
"I never saw him stop working. ... And it really shows you just how unselfish of a player he is."
The Orioles edged the Yankees 3-2 on Monday at Camden Yards to even the season series at 10 games apiece between the divisional rivals.
Game Three in the best-of-five ALDS is Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. New York will start Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 earned run average), while the Orioles will counter with Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA).
(Editing by Frank Pingue)