Maldonado fires LASER to stop Sox cold
HOUSTON -- One heave from home plate Friday night made up for everything catcher Martín Maldonado had struggled through in the American League Championship Series to that point, and his epic throw essentially ended the Red Sox’s season.
The Astros clung to a two-run lead in the seventh inning of Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, but the Red Sox were mounting momentum. Kendall Graveman was working a one-out sequence with runners on the corners while facing Travis Shaw. It looked like Boston was going to finally break through.
Enter Maldonado, who called for a high-and-away fastball. Shaw swung through the 95.7 mph pitch. Then, with Alex Verdugo surging for second base, the backstop popped up and hurled an 80.1 mph perfectly placed dime to shortstop Carlos Correa, who applied the tag to end the inning and propel the Astros to a 5-0 victory and the AL pennant.
Minute Maid Park went into a frenzy.
• Maldonado: "You get caught in the moment right there. That was a big play. They had a man at first and third and one out, and that shut down the inning."
• Graveman: "Probably the best throw of his career, I would say. He might have thrown it harder than I threw it to the plate. I usually get ground balls to the plate, but to get a strike-'em-out, throw-'em -out double play, I'll take those, too."
• Correa: “You know what I said to Martin? I said, ‘Papi, you’ve been saving that bullet all year long. You haven’t made a good throw like that in forever.’ It was a special throw. I felt it when the ball went in my glove. It hurt. It was a great throw.”
• Astros manager Dusty Baker: “That was huge. If he couldn't throw and he's safe, I mean, who knows what could have happened? That was an inning-ender, an inning-ending play by Maldy.”
• Red Sox manager Alex Cora: "We didn't make contact, and [Verdugo] got thrown out. But that's one of those that it's a 3-2 count with a sinkerballer. We were trying to score one, and we felt that we had the right guy at first. The times were 1.6, 1.65 [seconds], and it just mattered that their catcher just came out shooting, and he made a perfect throw."
It was a pick-me-up moment, for sure, especially given Maldonado’s struggles at the plate. He started every game of the ALCS for his defensive specialties, but he went 1-for-14 and has a 2021 postseason slash line of .069/.156/.069 and a .225 OPS.
"I think that's the reason they kept me behind the plate all year,” Maldonado said. “That's my strength, and I was able to get a good pitch to throw and I put a good throw over there."
Said Baker: “There are people who were wondering why Maldy was playing, hitting [.071]. These young guys, you see how he directed them through the game … and defense is so important, especially up the middle. Your catcher is my field general. He is invaluable to what they bring to the table.”