ATLANTA – In the Astros lineup, catcher Martin Maldonado is The Guy You Cannot Let Beat You. The 35-year-old veteran hit just 0.172 this season, with a percentage of 0.272 on the base and a 58 OPS + – meaning he was 42 percent worse than the average MLB hitter.
For opposing pitchers facing a Houston offensive otherwise stacked with all-star caliber hitters, Maldonado has to be the reliable out. It might sound tough to call him the weakest link in the lineup, but it’s pretty much the truth. When Zack Greinke started Game 4 of the 2021 World Series for the Astros, he was ahead of Maldonado in the stroke order.
En route to Game 5 of the World Series, Maldonado made 45 record appearances that postseason and had produced an anemic .098 / .159 / .098 slash line with just four hits and two RBIs. It was basically a non-Greinke mug that just doesn’t strike every time.
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In game 5, the guy you won’t let beat defeat the Braves. Not once, not twice, but three times. Maldonado, who plays every day for his worth as a catcher and leader, had three RBIs – one in the second inning, one in the fifth, and another in the seventh. The Astros, as you know, won Game 5 9-5 to keep Atlanta from being settled at home.
The series is moving back to Houston for Game 6, which is Tuesday.
“Maldy is the guy we’re obviously talking about, how great he is at pitch calling and his defenses are amazing and all that, but he’s also the guy who does the work in the cage every day,” said Astros Shortstop called Carlos Correa. “Even if it doesn’t work out, he’s there every day and does work. He takes care of the team. He takes care of at-bats. He wants to win the game go out and deliver. “
Maldonado also delivered in three different ways. In the second, he hit a victim flight into midfield that overtook Kyle Tucker. In the fifth he drew a walk laden with bases; We’ll talk more about this in a minute. In the seventh, he singled into left field and scored Tucker again as the outfielder sped around from second base.
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Three RBIs in three different ways, only one of which helped lift the 0.098 average in a positive direction. All in one elimination game, nothing less.
“Whichever way you get a run, especially in the playoffs, is huge,” said Maldonado. “You can play bat well whatever the situation. You try to work your way through. I really hoped to help the team win in every possible way.”
Let’s get back to that base-laden stroll. The game had already been a roller coaster ride; Adam Duvall scored a grand slam for the Braves in the first inning, but Houston got two runs back in the second and the other two in the third. Once the Astros were even, Freddie Freeman crushed a 460-foot home run into the center-right of the stands to put Atlanta back in the lead in the lower third.
After a goalless fourth inning for both teams, the Astros had runners in first and third places with two outs in the top of fifth. Alex Bregman, who struggled mightily on the plate throughout the series but had a huge double with two runs in the second, was on top. Atlanta quickly signaled the deliberate walk, loaded the bases, and brought Maldonado up. Good left-hander AJ Minter missed a low with his first inside pitch and his second, threw a strike with a 95 mph fastball and again missed a low with a cutter.
When Minter started throwing his 3-1 pitch, Maldonado stepped forward in the penalty area; Minters Fastball was all in. Ball 4.
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“Did you notice how close he was to the plate at the Minter racket?” Correa jumped in to say something during the post-game press conference. “Do you notice? That was sick.”
It was effective too. Maldonado’s walk not only forced Correa home from third place, but also extended the inning for pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez. He put Minter’s first pitch in left field for a single run with two runs, and that was exactly how Houston had taken a 7-5 lead.
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If the Braves had got the most out of The Guy You Cannot Let Beat You, they would still have held a 5-4 lead towards the end of fifth place, and who knows what happens from there? Instead, Houston had a two-pass lead.
Maldonado’s single, which drove Tucker home seventh, put the Astros 8-5 ahead.
“Just simple things like this, the sack fly you mentioned, scoring a run, taking a walk with the base, another run,” said Correa. “It’s productive on bats. He does the hard work and at some point it will pay off. I believe in him every step of the way.”
Maldonado, who was sitting at the interview table with Correa, looked at his friend.
“Now you’re making me cry,” he said.
Funny, that’s probably what Braves fans thought when Maldonado – TGYCLBY – kept collecting runs for the Astros on the scoreboard.