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Martin Maldonado

Astros’ Machete Martin Maldonado chops Atlanta

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado drives in three runs in Game 5

ATLANTA – Martin Maldonado might as well have been standing on top of the plate in the fifth inning Sunday night at Truist Park. That’s how close the Astros’ catcher got in an effort to sway the momentum away from the Braves in Game 5.

The bases were loaded with Astros, and Braves lefthanded reliever A.J. Minter needed only one more out to escape the inning. Maldonado refused to move off the plate or even swing the bat. That determination and patience helped the Astros extend the World Series with a 9-5 come-from-behind victory. 

Maldonado took the first two cutters, working the count to 2-0. Minter followed with a 94-mph for a strike. He took that one too. And when Minter followed with a cutter out of the strike zone and then another one, Maldonado took those too to draw walk and give the Astros a 5-4 lead.

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“Did you guys notice how close (Maldonado) was to the plate on the at-bat against Minter?” Astros shortstop  Carlos Correa said. “You guys notice? That was sick.”

Martin Maldonado pounces after intentional walk

That crucial plate appearance gave the Astros the lead and extended the inning. Martin Maldonado wasn’t surprised when the Braves intentionally walked the slumping Alex Bregman to load the bases for him.

“I was expecting that,” he said. “Breggy, we got down early in the game, (and) I always like to prepare (to) be ready for a guy that’s been tough all series, been pitching great. I wasn’t going to swing to get a strike.

“It was pretty much try and be patient. I know he’s got a good cutter. He’s been amazing this year so far with that pitch. And you try to see him out for the most part.”

That’s exactly what Maldonado did. He saw Minter throw five pitchers, offering at none of them to give the Astros a 5-4 lead.

Pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez followed with a two-run single to left, giving the Astros the lead for good. 

Nobody would have been surprised if Maldonado had gone up to the plate hacking, considering the stakes and his previous struggles. The Puerto Rican catcher entered Game 5 batting .167 in the Fall Classic with only two hits and one RBI.

He got his first RBI of the night with a sacrifice fly to center in the second inning, cutting the Braves’ lead to 4-2.  Maldonado added an RBI single to left in the seventh to give the Astros an 8-5 lead.

Hunger to deliver

“Maldy’s a guy that obviously we talk about how great he is with the pitch calling,” Correa said. “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. 

“Even though 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 get homers. He wants to go out and deliver.”

He definitely delivered in the must-win Game 5 to cut the Braves’ lead in the best-of-seven Series to 3-2. The Fall Classic will resume Tuesday night at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

Martin Maldonado became the first catcher in Astros franchise history to record three RBIs in a postseason game. Moreover, he’s only the fifth catcher in MLB history to deliver three RBIs in a potential elimination game.

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra (1957), Paul Richards (1945), Hall Smith (1960) and Steve Yeager (1977) were the other four.

Maldonado is known more for his work behind the plate. Pitching coach Brent Strom has billed him the team’s Most Valuable Player because of his exceptional job leading the pitching staff. 

Different contributions

On Sunday when the Astros needed it most, he also delivered at the plate with three different types of RBIs. He also helped the pitching staff settle down. They give up only one run after Adam Duvall’s grand slam put the Braves ahead 4-0 in the bottom of the first inning.

“Just simple things like that, the sac fly you mentioned, scoring a run, getting a walk with the bases loaded, another run,” Correa said. “It’s productive at-bats. 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 was deeply moved by those comments. 

“Now,” Maldonado said while reaching out to grab Correa’s hand, “you’re going to make me cry.”

There’s no crying in baseball. The Astros live to fight another day thanks in large part to a career night by the so-called Machete, Martin Maldonado.

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