Maldonado breaks out with 3-RBI game
ATLANTA -- Martín Maldonado is routinely lauded for his work behind the plate, but with the Astros’ championship dreams on the line Sunday night in Game 5 of the World Series, the catcher did his part at the plate to extend Houston’s season.
Maldonado went 1-for-3 with a walk, a sacrifice fly and three RBIs, providing a spark at the bottom of the lineup as the Astros forced a Game 6 with a 9-5 win over the Braves at Truist Park.
“Maldy's a guy that, obviously, we talk about how great he is with the pitch calling, and his defense is amazing and all that, but he's a guy that puts in the work every single day in the cage, also,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said.
“Even when things don't work out, he's there every single day putting in the work. He cares about the team. He cares about at-bats. He wants to win the game. He wants to hit homers. He wants to go out and deliver. He does the hard work, and at some point it's going to pay off. I believe in him every step of the way.”
Maldonado, sitting a few feet to Correa’s left, looked at his teammate after hearing his testimonial.
“Now you’re going to make me cry,” Maldonado said before fist-bumping Correa.
The Astros had a number of contributors in Game 5 as they cut Atlanta’s lead in the best-of-seven Series to 3 games to 2, but none were bigger than Maldonado. He drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, tied the game with a bases-loaded walk in the fifth and provided a key insurance run with an RBI single in the seventh.
“It means a lot,” Maldonado said. “Every time you've got a chance to help the team win one way or another, it's always huge.”
Maldonado became just the fifth catcher in World Series history to drive in three or more runs with his team facing elimination -- the first since Steve Yeager of the Dodgers had four RBIs in Game 5 of the 1977 Fall Classic.
Through his first 14 games of this postseason, Maldonado had a slash line of .098/.159/.098 with two RBIs, one walk and 14 strikeouts. He collected just four hits in 41 at-bats. His batting average was the lowest for any player with at least 20 at-bats this postseason.
How unproductive had Maldonado been? In Game 4, manager Dusty Baker chose to bat starting pitcher Zack Greinke ahead of him, dropping the catcher into the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
“The fact that he was battling and not looking at the scoreboard,” Baker said, “you can get down looking up there when you’re hitting and you're not on the interstate.”
After Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam got the party going for the Braves, the Astros countered with two runs in the second, the latter coming on Maldonado’s sac fly. Houston tied the game with two runs in the third, but Freddie Freeman put Atlanta ahead with a solo shot against starter Framber Valdez in the bottom half of the inning.
Maldonado led off the fourth with a routine groundout, helping the Braves hold the lead and stop the bleeding.
Or so they thought.
Correa led off the fifth with a base hit against A.J. Minter. Yuli Gurriel singled with one out, then Kyle Tucker advanced both runners with a ground ball to first base. The Braves chose to intentionally walk Alex Bregman to pitch to Maldonado, whose batting average stood at .095.
“I was expecting that,” Maldonado said. “I always prepare, be ready for a guy that's been tough all series, been pitching great. I wasn't going to swing until I had a strike. It was pretty much try and be patient.”
Minter missed with his first two pitches, but Maldonado took a fastball for strike one. The left-hander pitched carefully to Maldonado despite the catcher’s complete lack of production, throwing two more balls to force in a run with a game-tying walk.
“I could tell he was going up there trying to work a walk,” Minter said. “For me, it was just I tried to aim the ball instead of just driving it to the mitt. That's obviously the one thing I would take back.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Maldonado became just the second player in postseason history to draw a bases-loaded walk with a batting average under .100 (minimum 25 plate appearances), joining Detroit’s Austin Jackson in Game 4 of the 2013 American League Championship Series.
Marwin Gonzalez followed Maldonado’s walk with a two-run single, giving the Astros a 7-5 lead.
With half the game remaining, Baker said he wasn’t close to pinch-hitting for Maldonado despite his offensive struggles.
“Around that fifth, sixth, seventh inning, that's the inning when you have to kind of make a decision on what you're going to do because you're running out of time but you still have time to come back,” Baker said. “I was hoping that Maldy would get a hit, turn it over to Marwin Gonzalez, and then we had the top of the order coming up with [Jose] Altuve. I mean, it worked. A lot of stuff worked tonight.”