Astros catcher Martin Maldonado knows how to handle a pitching staff. How to make pitchers believe. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros first baseman Jose Abreu may be finding his old power. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros manager Dusty Baker is always ready to give someone like Kyle Tucker knuckles. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
That 2021 American League Championship pennant high above left field took a ding from a Jeremy Pena home run. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is elite defensively. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Abreu is dealing with some back issues for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena still believes he's a difference maker. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is the greatest Astro of all time and that's become harder and harder to dispute. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The home runs and big moments have come anything but easy for Jose Abreu with the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander still thrives off the biggest of moments. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros first baseman Jose Abreu has a track record of big home runs. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez can hit baseballs a very, very, very long way. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Catcher Martin Maldonado seems to make every pitcher better and more comfortable. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander still can bring the heat when he needs to make it happen. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander is still as competitive as ever. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros manager Dusty Baker knows his team is good enough to pull off another special October. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros catcher Martin Maldonado has a little pop in his bat. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Martin Maldonado, the pretty unquestioned clubhouse team leader of last fall’s World Series champions, has somehow almost taken as much garbage as Bud Light this season. And sadly, some of it has come from so-called Astros fans as Maldonado showed in a recent Instagram post about some of the vile comments sent to his wife. But the veteran catcher who some don’t want to see playing has never lost his importance to these Houston Astros. And teammates like Jose Abreu who argue Maldonado is still underrated. That his impact still isn’t fully understood.
“Maldy is a guy that’s extremely important to this team and to this clubhouse,” Abreu tells PaperCity. “He’s a guy that I think in baseball, he doesn’t get all the credit that he deserves. He’s a guy that always comes out here and battles.”
Abreu is talking after he and Maldonado seemingly do enough to lift the Astros to victory against the Baltimore Orioles, the young team with the best record in the American League, on Monday night. Abreu hits one of the longest home runs hit at Minute Maid Park this year, a blast to deep center that an in-his-prime Barry Bonds even would have admired, to break a 5-5 tie in the seventh inning. Then Maldonado, batting in the bottom of the eighth inning with no doubt many couch potato managers screaming for Dusty Baker to pinch hit for him, smacks an even longer home run, one that would be a dinger in every Major League Baseball park in the land.
The 7-5 Abreu and Maldonado delivered lead does not last with October proven Astros closer Ryan Pressly left grimacing as Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins reaches down to gulf a slider into the right field stands for a three run home run in the top of the ninth inning. Baker will call the 8-7 loss “devastating,” adding “That hurt. A lot.”
It could if the Astros, now one and a half games up on both the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers in the American League West, somehow completely forget who they are and miss the playoffs entirely. The number of Astros fans openly dreading such an unlikely scenario, treating the two time world champions like they’re the Texans, University of Houston football, English soccer, Spirit Airlines or some other entity with a history of not coming through is surprising. But if the most proven force in Houston sports ever does hold onto this division lead, Abreu and Maldonado’s moments could mean more.
For Dusty Baker’s team is going to need big moments from both to work their way through another October. It’s hard not to enjoy watching young catcher Yainer Diaz play (and smash home runs at a near Yordan Alvarez clip), but Maldonado is going to see the biggest moments at the position in the postseason.
“He’s definitely going to be somebody that we need,” Abreu says of Maldonado in Spanish, with team translator Jenloy Herrera relaying the words.
The Astros are going to need a power hitting Abreu too. The former AL MVP has heard almost as much criticism as Maldonado this season. As if people expected Abreu to turn down the three-year, $58.5 million contract the then-GM-less Astros offered him at age 36. The contract isn’t Abreu’s fault. And a few big postseason swings will change perceptions.
A monster home run against the Orioles, in a game that almost feels October worthy (“I mean, it was obviously a great baseball game,” Astros starter Justin Verlander says) with two of the best teams in baseball trading big blows, sure looks like a nice warmup. Abreu’s hit plenty of home runs in his career, but doing it for his new team in a pressure late-inning spot means something.
“Always,” Abreu tells PaperCity. “Always. That’s why we play the sport. That’s why every single guy in this clubhouse does. Try to win. Sometimes it doesn’t happen.”
But the will is always there. No matter what you think of Dusty Baker’s daily lineup decisions, there is no missing the will in both Jose Abreu and Martin Maldonado. The determination to get it right. To put in the work.
“Maldy is a guy that’s extremely important to this team and to this clubhouse. He’s a guy that I think in baseball, he doesn’t get all the credit that he deserves. He’s a guy that always comes out here and battles.” — Jose Abreu
Martin Maldonado and the Power of Work
More than 150 games into another long season, Maldonado is still doing extra drill work. Still pouring over scouting reports and video. Still trying to make himself the ultimate security blanket for a pitcher.
And this is a guy whose wife is getting hate on Instagram, presumably because fans want someone else to play more?
Most Astros fans are way better than that. This is one of the most loyal — and protective — fan bases in the world of sports. And plenty of Astros supporters have rallied behind Maldonado since that Instagram post. But you still wish less people would resort to that kind of vile. Social media makes a lot of trolls think they can safely harass from the shadows.
But evil hearts have a way of becoming apparent. Just like the good ones do. Including the heart of the most prepared catcher in baseball, the guy who his teammates have never stopped believing in.
Jose Abreu knows that Martin Maldonado still doesn’t get his due. That bad overall numbers — that .191 batting average and minus 1.3 overall WAR — don’t measure what he actually means to the defending champs.
Some people will tell you that Martin Short isn’t funny. Some people will tell you that Martin Maldonado shouldn’t still be starting for the Houston Astros.
Teammates like Jose Abreu know better. And Astros fans should too.