06/14/2003 12:10 AM ET
Tino returns to Yankee Stadium
Martinez won four World Series rings with New York
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By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- When Tino Martinez walked downstairs to the field level at Yankee Stadium, he knew the way to the visitor's clubhouse. Sort of. Martinez made a left turn, walked toward the Cardinals clubhouse, but it took him a few minutes to find the door.
"It's strange. I knew where I was going," Martinez said. "More or less."
Friday marked Martinez's first time at Yankee Stadium since he left as a free agent after the 2001 season, as the Cardinals opened a three-game Interleague series against the Yankees.
"I was excited about this when the schedule came out and I saw we were coming here," Martinez said. "I've had a chance to think about it and prepare for it. When I signed a three-year deal with the Cardinals, I thought I'd never play at Yankee Stadium again unless it was in a World Series. The chance with Interleague Play to come back here, I'm really excited about it."
Martinez, who authored so many magical moments in the Bronx, said he had no hard feelings over his departure, which was cemented in December 2001 when the Yankees signed Jason Giambi to a seven-year, $120 million contract.
"I really haven't thought about the way we parted ways," Martinez said. "It was a business decision. Baseball is a business and they went the way they wanted to go. I kept my career going, and it just happens that I'm back here. I don't have any bitter feelings."
Two of those classic moments came in the Fall Classic, including his grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series and his ninth-inning, two-out game-tying home run in Game 4 of the 2001 series. Martinez couldn't choose a favorite, saying that several games stood out in his mind.
"There are so many," he said. "The four World Series wins, the last outs, the perfect games, that kind of stuff doesn't happen once in most people's careers. I've had it happen so many times, there are too many to name."
Torre didn't hesitate, pointing to his slam against San Diego's Mark Langston as his favorite, as Martinez redeemed a poor season, coming through when it mattered most.
"It would have to be the grand slam he hit in the World Series," Torre said. "He put so much pressure on himself in the postseason because he didn't perform up to his standards early on. That opened the gates for him."
Only nine of the 25 players on the Yankees' active roster were here in Martinez's last season, though he has remained close friends with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, whom he plans to have dinner with on Saturday. He said that he followed the Yankees very closely last season, checking the box scores each morning. This year, his interest in his former club has diminished somewhat, though he doesn't root against the Yankees.
"They're probably the only two I know," joked Martinez. "I don't root against them. Derek and Jorge are good friends of mine, and I want to see them do well. I'm not in their division or league, so I don't have any problems with them winning."
Joe Torre, who managed Martinez for six years, expected the fans to give Martinez a warm reception, which they did with a standing ovation in the top of the second inning.
"We came here together in 1996, and we enjoyed a terrific six years here," Torre said. "We were vey successful. In six years, we played in five World Series, which is pretty special. There will always be a closeness between Tino and I."
With his former teammate, Roger Clemens, going for his 300th victory, the sold-out Yankee Stadium was electric from the first pitch on Friday night. Martinez had told his teammates, many of whom had never been to the House That Ruth Built, that they were going to experience the closest thing there is to October baseball in the regular season.
"I told them that it will be a great atmosphere," Martinez said. "It's been sold out for a while, and with a great franchise like the Cardinals going to Yankee Stadium, the fans were going to get behind it. With Rocket going for 300, they'll get a pretty good taste of a playoff atmosphere.
"A lot of guys in the clubhouse haven't faced Clemens, period, so it's a big thrill," he added. "To go against him going for 300, I'm fired up. I don't want him to get it tonight, but I eventually want him to get it."
When asked to reflect on the Yankees teams he played on, Martinez was hesitant to compare those squads to the current Yankees team. As far as the intangibles that many say have been missing since Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius left after the 2001 World Series, Martinez said he wasn't sure what those were.
"We had a lot of guys on that team that hated to lose," he said. "We didn't accept it. A weekday game in April or May, we hated losing. We went out every day and played hard to win. We had a great attitude on that team."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.