HOUSTON (AP) — When Martín Maldonado caught Framber Valdez’s no-hitter for the Houston Astros against the Cleveland Guardians, it gave him three no-hitters in his career, tying him for third-most in MLB history.
It’s no surprise to anyone associated with the Astros that Maldonado’s been behind the plate for so many big games.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys on this team … he’s essentially our quarterback,” closer Ryan Pressly said.
Tuesday was the first time Maldonado caught a no-hitter thrown by a single pitcher. He made major league history last year when he became the first player to catch two combined no-hitters when Cristian Javier, Hector Neris and Pressly combined to no-hit the Yankees on June 25.
That came after he caught a combined no-hitter for Houston by Aaron Sanchez, Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski against Seattle on Aug. 3, 2019.
“He’s a great person and means a great deal to me,” Javier said in Spanish through a translator. “For me, it’s almost like God put him here for us, to be able to guide us through these games.”
Maldonado, who is in his 13th major league season, is proud to have his place in the MLB record books by catching his third no-hitter. Carlos Ruiz and Jason Varitek are the only catchers with more than him, tied for first with four apiece.
Maldonado noted that his success behind the plate doesn’t come easy, requiring hours of work and study away from the field. He spoke of trying to put together game plans at home in the evenings while his two young children seem to delight in trying to distract him.
“It’s a lot of sacrifices. I’ll be up at night reading reports … and whoever has kids, you know they’re jumping all over you,” he said. “So, I’ve got to give them a paper and say: ‘Hey just do some work with me.’ And they’re writing crazy stuff on the paper.”
So, he appreciates when people acknowledge all he does to help the team.
“All the hard work I put in all the time, on a daily basis to call a game or to get a game plan together I think it shows,” he said. “And it makes you think it’s worth every minute.”
The 36-year-old Maldonado is Houston’s starting catcher, having played 79 games at the position this season. But some have criticized manager Dusty Baker for sticking with him over rookie Yainer Díaz because of Maldonado’s struggles at the plate.
Maldonado is hitting just .167 with eight homers and 18 RBIs this season, while Díaz entered Wednesday batting .276 with 13 home runs and 31 RBIs in 66 games split mostly between designated hitter and catcher.
Baker certainly hears the criticism, but isn’t worried about it, because he’s far more concerned about what his catcher does on defense than at the plate.
“I’ve said it before, and it’s fallen on deaf ears … but he means a ton to our pitching staff,” Baker said.
He compared the situation with Maldonado and Diaz to one in Atlanta when Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was pitching for the Braves.
“I looked it up, that was similar to Atlanta when they had that great pitching staff, and they had Javy Lopez hitting 30 home runs, but Greg Maddox wanted Eddie Pérez to catch him,” Baker said. “If they don’t score you haven’t lost, and you’ve got a better chance to win.”
Maldonado’s skill was evident Tuesday night when Valdez rarely shook him off, and Javier said he didn’t shake him off once in the seven innings of the no-hitter he pitched against the Yankees.
“Maldy and I were a pretty good combination there,” Javier said. “I just trusted every single time he put a pitch down.”
Along with his dogged preparation, Houston’s pitchers love Maldonado’s calm demeanor. Neris, who threw the eighth inning of the no-hitter against the Yankees, said no matter what the situation is, he can always count on Maldonado to settle things down.
“That matters a lot,” Neris said. “When you have a guy like him that’s a veteran, smart — he thinks about you versus the hitter, so you don’t have to have any frustration. Because you say: ‘Maldy’s got it, and he can help me in any situation.’”
Maldonado has received a lot of credit for helping aid the development of Houston’s young pitchers like Javier, Valdez, José Urquidy and Luis García. But one of the best things about him, is that he’s also always looking for ways to help the team’s veterans improve, too.
Neris and Pressly, who are both 34, couldn’t stop raving about him, and 40-year-old three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, who was reacquired by the Astros Tuesday, never shied away from praising him in his first stint with the team.
“I think for this group we have here to have Maldy behind home plate is the best,” Neris said. “It’s like the perfect complement for us.”
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