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World Series 2021 – How Martin Maldonado saved the Houston Astros’ season by not swinging

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ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves had a plan. With a 5-4 lead and an open base to work with in the top of the fifth inning of World Series Game 5, they figured they could get out of a jam by intentionally walking No. 7 hitter Alex Bregman to get to the Houston Astros‘ light-hitting catcher.

But Martin Maldonado had a plan, too.

Maldonado entered the night hitting just .167 in the series, which is actually about 100 points higher than he hit in the first two rounds of this postseason. He’s considered the only weak link in the Astros’ lineup — or at least he was until Sunday night.

The intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs and hard-throwing Braves left-hander A.J. Minter on the mound. Before entering the batter’s box, Maldonado turned to Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron in the dugout.

“He asked, ‘What do you think of me getting on top of the plate?” Cintron told ESPN after the Astros’ 9-5 win. “I said that’s a good idea. That way you can see the cutter up and recognize it earlier.”

But something else happened as the right-handed Maldonado got ready just inches from the plate.

“I think it did throw him off,” Maldonado said of his at-bat against Minter. “His cutter is nasty. If you’re off the plate, you give him more room to throw that cutter for strikes.”

Instead, Minter threw two straight balls to start the at-bat. Tensions began to rise in sold-out Truist Park.

“Did you guys notice how close he was to the plate on the bat against Minter?” shortstop Carlos Correa said to reporters afterward. “You guys notice? That was sick.”

Maldonado then watched a fastball he had no intention of offering at cross the middle of home plate for strike one.

“He wasn’t going to swing 2-0, but he was ready to swing 2-1, but he got another cutter,” Cintron said.

Maldonado was expecting a fastball but because he was seeing the cutter better, it was easier for him to lay off of the pitch just below his knees. The count went to 3-1. The lead and perhaps the game was on the line.

And that’s when Maldonado got even more creative, turning as if he was going to bunt before pulling the bat back as Minter sailed a pitch way inside. Ball 4. Game tied.

“I thought of it in the moment,” Maldonado said with a smile. “I wasn’t going to swing until 3-2. Maybe it would throw him off.”

The Astros’ dugout erupted, and then moments later did again as pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez drove in two runs with a single to left to give Houston a lead it never would relinquish.

“He came back to the dugout yelling at me, ‘You like my Little League bunt?'” Cintron said. “He was prepared before he stepped up to the plate. He was ready for that at-bat. That made the difference.”

Maldonado added a sacrifice fly and an RBI single, saving his best game of the postseason for when the Astros needed it most.

Maldonado’s performance helped take the Astros from down 3-1 to heading back to Houston for Game 6 — and a potential Game 7.

“It means a lot,” an emotional Maldonado said. “Every time you’ve got a chance to help the team win one way or another, it’s always huge.”

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MLB free-agency grades – Texas Rangers bet big on their future with Marcus Semien signing

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Raise your hand if, like me, you uttered something unprintable when you heard the reported terms of Marcus Semien‘s new contract and the team that had offered them. That’s what we call a knee-jerk reaction, which isn’t always rational or correct. Your real response is what you come up with after thinking through the factors involved. Often, then, you see a reason and a rhyme, even with surprising news.

For me, after thinking this deal through, I still think something mildly unprintable, but it’s a word that’s less severe than my knee-jerk phrase — and it comes with a slightly more positive connotation.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Semien and his representatives agreed to a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Texas Rangers. It’s the richest deal by far of this year’s free-agent season, matching the average annual value of Justin Verlander‘s deal with the Astros ($25 million) but for a half-decade longer.

In finding a new team, Semien becomes the second member of the long-anticipated shortstop free-agent class of 2021-22 to find a long-term home (the first being Francisco Lindor, who agreed to an extension with the Mets last season). Let’s consider that class with a few numbers from baseball-reference.com:

Here, it’s worth noting that Passan is also reporting that Semien is far from likely to be the last of the Rangers’ high-level free-agent targets, even among that shortstop class. Still, for now, we’ll look at how he fits as if he were the jewel of the Rangers’ winter push, and not just a jewel.



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Twins, Buxton find perfect balance in incentive-laden deal

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For his first 24 games of 2021, Byron Buxton was the best baseball player on the planet. He hit for average. He hit home runs. He hit doubles. He stole some bases. He played center field like Hermes, only in cleats instead of winged sandals. He hit .370/.408/.772 with nine home runs, 10 doubles and five stolen bases. He led all hitters in slugging percentage and trailed only Mike Trout in OPS.

This was the ceiling we had longed dreamed of for Buxton, who at his best is the most dynamic player in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani: a combination of power, speed and defense that would make him a modern-day Willie Mays or Ken Griffey Jr.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare anybody to those two, and it was unfair to expect Buxton to keep hitting at that level. But sadly, we don’t even know how close he would have come, because once again the injury bug wrecked Buxton’s season. On May 7, he went on the injured list with a hip strain, suffered while running to first base on a groundout. He returned on June 19, and in his third game back, he suffered a fracture in his left hand when Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle hit him with a 94-mph fastball.

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Avisail Garcia, Miami Marlins reach 4-year deal, sources say

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Outfielder Avisail Garcia and the Miami Marlins are in agreement on a four-year, $53 million contract, a source told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Sunday.

Garcia, 30, spent the past two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He hit .262 in 2021, with 29 home runs and 86 RBIs — both career highs.

Miami had some money to spend in free agency after going 67-95 this past season, and made an early move with Garcia, one that helps shore up the team’s outfield.

CEO Derek Jeter had said he planned to be active this offseason.

“For the first time, really since we’ve been here as an ownership group, I expect to be pretty active — or I should say, have active conversations. There’s two sides to it,” he said in Octover.

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