TORONTO -- Competing in a pennant race is what Russell Martin lives for.
The Canadian catcher belted his career-best 20th home run of the season Friday as the New York Yankees continued their playoff push with a convincing win over Toronto.
"This is the type of baseball that I enjoy," said Martin, whose three-run homer in the sixth inning blew the game wide open as New York beat the Blue Jays 11-4. "It's high intensity and this is the way I play the game."
The Yankees maintained their one-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles, who defeated the Boston Red Sox 9-1 on Friday.
"We want them to lose as much as possible but they don't really seem like they want to give in," Martin said. "It's going to be coming down to the wire. It's September, it's time to get going.
"This is baseball at it's best, for me, just going out there every day with the race, how tight it is. I couldn't ask for anything better. It keeps you going every day."
Martin, who is from Chelsea, Que., has rebounded in the second half of the season. Friday's home run was his 12th since the all-star break.
"It's nice to get a career high at home in front of my family and friends," he said. "Probably about 12 people (were there to watch him). Trying to make them proud out there."
Before the break Martin was batting .179 in 68 games. But he has turned it on since, hitting .247 in 60 games after going 2-for-4 on Friday.
"Just trying to make a bad season a bit better," he said. "We're playing to win at this point so anything I can do to help the team win that's my main focus."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, himself a former catcher, praised Martin for being able to separate his offence from his defence when he struggled at the plate.
"I never saw him really take his at-bats behind the plate," Girardi said. "I never saw him visibly show anger and frustration. He seemed to handle the situation really well. He's been kind of a bad-luck guy this year too when you look at the balls he's hit. Those are the ones that you tend to show the most frustration on when you hit a ball hard and you don't get a hit.
"But he would just put his gear on and go back and catch and focus on what you need to do back there so I've been really impressed in how he's handled it and I think how he's handled it has allowed him to hit better in the second half."
Martin said separating his work behind the play and his at-bats comes with the territory.
"It's something that you learn early on as a catcher," Martin said. "It's something you have to do -- separate your offence and your defence. You don't want to let one affect the other. I've been able to do that throughout my whole career so it's really nothing new to me."
Martin said the way Girardi has managed the lineup has helped him as well.
"I don't feel like I've caught as many games as I've caught. I feel like I felt in June," he said. "Early in my career I wanted to be back there all the time but now it seems like when I get rest I feel like I'm helping the team more. It's better to have me fresh out there than all beat up."
"Al put the pick on at third base and that was a big help because if that doesn't happen they probably score a couple of runs in that inning," Martin said. "Al just kind of flashed that he was getting a big lead over there. We haven't used it much this year so I guess they weren't really anticipating it. It was a big play, a good tag by Al and a good throw by me."