ATLANTA – In the Astros lineup, wide receiver Martin Maldonado is the guy you can’t let him beat you. The 35-year veteran hit just .172 this season, with a .272 on-base percentage and 58 OPS +, which means he was 42 percent worse than the average MLB hitter.
For opposing pitchers, facing a Houston offense that is otherwise packed with All-Star-caliber hitters, Maldonado has to be the reliable out. It may sound harsh to call him the weakest link in the lineup, but it’s the truth. When Zack Greinke started Game 4 of the 2021 World Series for the Astros, he was ahead of Maldonado in batting order.
Heading into Game 5 of the World Series, Maldonado had 45 plate appearances this postseason and had produced an anemic line of .098 / .159 / .098 with just four hits and two RBIs. He’s basically been a non-Greinke pitcher and he just doesn’t strike out all the time.
MORE: Live Score Updates, Game 5 Highlights
In Game 5, The Guy You Can’t Let Beat You beat the Braves. Not once, not twice, but three times. Maldonado, who plays every day for his value as a catcher and leader, had three RBIs, one in the second inning, one in the fifth and one in the seventh. The Astros, as you know, won Game 5 9-5 to prevent Atlanta from securing at home.
The series returns to Houston for Game 6, which is Tuesday.
“Maldy is a guy that we obviously talk about how good he is with pitch calls, and his defense is amazing and all, but he’s also a guy who works every day in the cage,” Astros shortstop Carlos said. Strap. said. “Even though when things don’t work out, he’s there every day working. He cares about the team. He cares about at-bats. He wants to win the game. He wants to hit home runs. He wants to get it. Go out there and deliver.”
Maldonado also complied in three different ways. In the second, he hit a sacrifice fly to center field that pinned Kyle Tucker. In the fifth, he caught a bases loaded walk; we’ll talk more about that in a minute. In the seventh, he singled to left field, scoring again for Tucker as the outfielder ran from second base.
WORLD SERIES SCHEDULE: Dates, TV schedules, scores
Three RBIs in three different ways, only one of which helped boost that .098 batting average in a positive direction. All in an elimination game, no less.
“Whatever way you bring in a career, especially in the playoffs, it’s huge,” Maldonado said. “You get good at-bats, whatever the situation is. You try to get through it. I had high hopes of helping the team win in any way that we can.”
Let’s go back to that walk full of bases. The game had already been a roller coaster; Adam Duvall hit a grand slam for the Braves in the first inning, but Houston had two runs in the second and the other two in the third. As soon as the Astros were even, Freddie Freeman smashed a 460-foot home run into the right-center bleachers to put Atlanta back ahead in the bottom of the third.
After a scoreless fourth inning for both squads, the Astros had runners on first and third with two outs in the top of the fifth. Alex Bregman, who has struggled at the plate the entire series but had a great two-run double in the second, was up. Atlanta quickly signaled for the intentional walk, loading the bases and taking Maldonado out. Braves left-hander AJ Minter missed inside on his first pitch and went low with his second, struck out with a 95 mph fastball and missed low again with a cutter.
When Minter started throwing his 3-1 pitch, Maldonado got a little ahead in the area; Minter’s fastball was deep inside. Ball 4.
MORE: Braves’ pitching strategy flops in Game 5, but prepares the team for Games 6 and 7
“Did you realize how close he was to the plate at bat against Minter?” Correa chimed in to say during the postgame press conference. “Did you notice? That was sick.”
It was also effective. Maldonado’s walk not only forced Correa home from third, but also extended the inning for pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez. He dropped Minter’s first pitch in left field for a two-run single, and so Houston took a 7-5 lead.
FOSTER: On Ian Anderson and a World Series no-hitter
If the Braves had gotten the best of The Guy You Cannot Let Beat You, they would still have held a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth, and who knows what will happen from there? Instead, Houston had a two-run lead.
Maldonado’s single chasing Tucker in the seventh inning put the Astros ahead 8-5.
“Simple things like that, the sacrifice flight you mentioned, scoring a run, walking on a loaded base, another run,” Correa said. “They are productive at-bats. He does the hard work, and at some point it will pay off. I believe in him every step of the way.”
Maldonado, sitting at the interview table with Correa, looked at his friend.
“Now you’re going to make me cry,” he said.
It’s funny, that’s probably what Braves fans were thinking as Maldonado – TGYCLBY – kept racking up runs for the Astros on the scoreboard.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.