CHICAGO – Scott Martini stood in the front row of the left-field corner bleachers at Wrigley Field watching his son, Nick, shag batting-practice fly balls about 100 feet away with several other Oakland A’s.
The Martinis, who live near Crystal Lake, are Cubs fans. Nick grew up rooting for Chicago’s North Side team.
“Nick’s dream [as a kid] was, ‘Man, I’d love to play in Wrigley Field. How cool would that be?’ ” Scott said.
About four hours later, Nick Martini answered that question: Pretty darn cool.
Martini, recently called up from Triple-A Las Vegas after being set back by a spring-training knee injury, worked an 11-pitch at-bat and eventually ripped a two-run, pinch-hit home run to right field in the eighth inning to help pull the A’s within two runs of the Cubs.
Marcus Semien followed Martini with his second homer of the game, but the A’s fell to the Cubs, 6-5.
“I don’t know if I could have pictured it any better than that,” said Martini, who played on Prairie Ridge’s 2008 Class 4A state championship team. “Pinch hitting, coming off the bench and doing something like that. It was definitely a thrill.”
As the count progressed, Scott said to friends sitting next to him, “Best two-strike hitter in baseball.” Nick backed that up, spoiling one pitch from reliever Steve Cishek after another and working the count full.
“Not only was it big for us, he really fought the at-bat,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He fouled off some pitches, worked deep into the count and finally got a pitch he could put in play and got his second home run.”
Martini’s first home run came last season against Los Angeles Angels catcher Francisco Arcia in a blowout loss.
Pinch hitting in Chicago brings out the best in Martini, who hits and throws left-handed. He got his first major league hit in June 2018 against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, one that produced a game-winning RBI in a 7-6 A’s victory.
“The biggest thing for me pinch hitting is try to get something to hit hard and go from there,” Martini said. “It’s definitely not an easy thing to do. Probably one of the hardest things to do in sports, honestly. You’re getting a good reliever and you’re trying to barrel something. I was fortunate I did that.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was impressed.
“[Martini] had a great at-bat,” Maddon said. “That kind of set the wheels in motion for them.”
Martini became a solid contributor last season as the A’s finished 97-65 and made the American League Wild Card game. Melvin figured Martini would make the major league club out of spring training. But Martini caught a cleat in the warning track of a February spring training game and suffered a Grade 2 posterior cruciate ligament tear, which set him back. He began playing at Triple-A Las Vegas in June and was called back last week when center fielder Ramon Laureano was placed on the injured list.
Two hours before Monday’s game, Scott Martini and Kent Urban, Nick’s former Kansas State teammate, were in the front row of the left-field corner bleachers holding seats for the rest of the Martini cheering section.
Nick’s mother (Kris), sisters (Maddy and Hannah) and other friends made up a group of about a dozen in the corner. They were nervous with anticipation on each pitch of Martini’s at-bat. Martini planned on meeting his family and friends after the game.
“It was a special moment to do that in front of my family for sure,” Martini said. “I’m sure they were going nuts. It will be a cool moment to share with them.”