Maldonado gives Astros surprise offensive boost with 3 RBIs

Baseball Championship

ATLANTA (AP)Martin Maldonado, a veteran catcher known for his defense, provided a surprise contribution at the plate to help the Houston Astros stay alive in the World Series.

Maldonado, Houston’s No. 8 hitter, was creative as he drove in three runs in the Astros’ 9-5 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5.

He is the first player in history to drive in runs with a hit, walk and sacrifice fly in a postseason game.

”It’s like whatever way you bring a run, especially in the playoff, is huge,” Maldonado said. ”You get good at-bats, whatever the situation dictates. You try to work through it. I was really hopeful to help the team win whatever way we can do it.”

Maldonado also is the first Astros catcher to drive in three runs in a postseason game.

The bases-loaded walk from A.J. Minter in the fifth drew the most attention, including from teammate Carlos Correa.

”Did you guys notice how close he was to the plate on the bat against Minter?” Correa asked reporters following the game. ”You guys notice? That was sick.”

Minter also noticed.

”Obviously with Maldonado, 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.”

To describe Maldonado’s big game as unexpected would be an understatement. He had never driven in more than one run in any of his previous 41 career postseason games. He had hit only .157 in the postseason.

Astros manager Dusty Baker described Maldonado’s hitting as ”real important” to the game.

”The fact that he was battling and not looking at the scoreboard, you can get down looking up there,” said Baker, referring to Maldonado’s modest batting totals.

Maldonado, 35, hit only .172 in the regular season and is a career .212 hitter in 11 seasons with Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City, Chicago Cubs and two stints with Houston.

Maldonado had only one hit Sunday night but played a key role in the Astros’ offensive resurgence. Houston carried a .206 batting average for the World Series before breaking out with 12 hits. The Astros scored a combined two runs in losing Games 3 and 4.

Maldonado’s three RBIs led the Astros and helped push the series back to Houston. The Braves lead the series, 3-2.

Maldonado’s first contribution came in the second inning. His fly ball to deep center field drove in Kyle Tucker from third base. His two-out single to left field off Drew Smyly in the seventh gave Houston an 8-5 lead.

The Astros have success when Maldonado produces at the plate. In his four seasons with the team, Houston is 16-4 when he drives in two or more runs.

Maldonado is expected to carry the full load at catcher after backup Jason Castro was placed on the COVID-19 related injured list before Game 4 on Saturday.

Castro was replaced by Garrett Stubbs. Unlike a player replaced due to injury, Castro is eligible to return if he is cleared.

Castro was 0 for 2 in Game 1 against Atlanta and 0 for 1 in Game 2.

Due to his defensive strength, Maldonado was starting even before the loss of Castro. Maldonado was named a Gold Glove finalist on Thursday. He led the American League by throwing out 18 of 47 runners attempting to steal a base.

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