DETROIT -- The last time the Cleveland Indians won the American League Central, Victor Martinez was a cleanup hitter in his prime at age 28. He set a career high with 25 home runs that year, helping power his way to a top-10 finish in league MVP balloting.
Martinez eclipsed the 20-homer mark just twice since then until this season. He's not only on pace to shatter that record seven years later, he has an outside chance to match his career high before he gets to the All-Star break.
"You know what, man, it feels good," Martinez said on hitting his 20th home run of the year Wednesday night to power a victory over the Rangers. "But at the same time, I still have a long way to go. It's not how you start. It's how you finish. I'm just focusing on helping this team win every day and then seeing what happens."
It's precisely the way Martinez has started this season that makes people anticipate how well he can finish. Seven years, several knee injuries and one major knee surgery after his most productive season, and four years after his last 20-homer campaign, he's on a pace to have a new one.
"Maybe I'll look at my stats when I'm sitting on my couch in my house after the season," he said. "But I'm not going to lie: It feels great."
Not only did he reach the 20-homer mark by the end of June, he did it with a 20th homer that wasn't cheap. It was a 408-foot drive to near-straightaway center field at Globe Life Park, one of back-to-back home runs and it provided one of several critical insurance runs to an eventual 8-6 win.
Martinez is just the fourth Tiger in franchise history to hit 20 home runs by the All-Star break at age 35 or older. Gary Sheffield was the last, hitting 21 by the break in 2007. Hank Greenberg hit 22 in his first 70 games in 1946. Norm Cash hit 20 in 1971.
Martinez's 2-for-5 performance included an RBI double in the first inning, raising his average on the season to .330. With Astros second baseman and AL batting leader Jose Altuve going 0-for-4, Martinez not only passed Robinson Cano for second in the AL in hitting, he moved within two points of the lead in the batting race.
"Vic's been swinging well all year -- right-handed, left-handed, take your pick," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Martinez hit .330 over a full season in 2011, driving in 103 runs in the process. He did so with just 12 home runs, a testament to his consistent hitting with runners in scoring position. He drove in 27 runs on homers that season, but had 38 RBI singles.
So far this season, 28 of his 52 RBIs have resulted from the long ball.
In a season in which Martinez seems to be flexing his muscles, he says his strength is coming from his stronger legs, two years recuperated from knee surgery.
"I think 75 percent [of the power] comes from the legs," Martinez said, "and I've been able to use them a lot more."