Dusty Baker's faith in Martin Maldonado pays off as Astros clinch 3rd AL pennant in 5 years

By , SportsRadio 610

HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610)- Over the course of the Astros six-game American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, Dusty Baker was seemingly asked an iteration of the same question each day: Why not start Jason Castro behind home plate?

The question was a fair one. Of the 188 players to record at least 400 plate appearances this season, only Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrelton Simmons finished with a lower OPS, and his light-hitting regular season only became worse in the playoffs. In 30 postseason plate appearances entering Friday’s game six, Maldonado had reached base four times. He had singled once, walked once, and been hit by a pitch twice, but Dusty Baker stuck by him and that faith paid off.

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Boston combined to score 21 runs en route to wins in games two and three only to see Maldonado guide six pitchers into holding the Red Sox scoreless after the first inning in game four and did the same as Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia stifled that same powerful lineup to one run over 13.2 innings in games five and six.

“Their catcher, he is really good,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He did it last year. He has done it previous years. “He gets out of his script, and that's something that is very impressive.”

Maldonado finished with a hit in three at bats during the Astros 5-0 series clinching win on Friday night, but again, his biggest impact came from behind home plate.

Clinging to a 2-0 lead, a walk and a single put the tying run on base in the seventh inning against Kendall Graveman. Pinch hitter Travis Shaw had worked the count when Maldonado called for a fastball. Shaw swung through the high heater and with the runner at first base, Alex Verdugo, taking off for second, Maldonado threw an 80.2 MPH strike to Carlos Correa, who slapped the tag on Verdugo, ending the inning.

“That was huge,” Baker said. “There are people who were wondering why Maldy was playing, hitting .075. These young guys, you see how he directed them through the game, and that was huge.”

“I think that’s the reason they keep me behind the plate all year,” Maldonado said. “That’s something that is my strength. I was able to get a good pitch to throw on, and I made a good throw.”

Maldonado has started 22-of-23 postseason games the last two years. The only game he didn’t start came in 2020’s ALCS that didn’t have a scheduled off day, yet he still played in that contest, and you can bet Baker will write Maldonado’s name on his lineup card for however long the World Series lasts.

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