BOSTON – In the span of four days in late July, the defending World Series champion Astros made two significant acquisitions. One move hardly elicited headlines outside of Houston. The other trade was the talk of the baseball world throughout the United States and Toronto.
On July 26 the Astros bolstered the catching position by adding 2017 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner Martín Maldonado from the Angels. The second trade brought in 2017 American League All-Star closer Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays.
Despite his valuable contributions behind the plate, Maldonado’s importance to the Astros still hardly gets the recognition it deserves. And even in October, Osuna still faces the scrutiny of opposing fans and some media for the domestic violence accusations that prompted Major League Baseball to suspend him 75 games this year.
Part of the team
Inside the Astros’ clubhouse and between the diamond, though, Maldonado and Osuna have gained the acceptance of their new teammates while playing pivotal roles heading into the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
“The reception that (Osuna) got from the whole team was the correct one,” said Astros leader José Altuve, a perennial All-Star and 2017 AL MVP. “We supported him. If you look, he’s been a fundamental piece of the team’s success since he arrived.”
Osuna was 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA while converting all 12 of his save opportunities over 22 ⅔ innings in 23 regular season appearances for the Astros after the trade. He threw 2 ⅓ scoreless innings over two games in the Division Series sweep over the Indians.
In a critical moment in the series, Osuna earned a four-out save in Game 2 after listening to Maldonado. He went away from his overpowering fastball to strike out Francisco Lindor with a changeup to strand the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning on Sunday.
On a day that Maldonado guided Gerrit Cole through a brilliant seven innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts and no walks, the pitching staff’s confidence in Maldonado was clear when Osuna used his changeup to strike out Lindor.
“It’s always difficult to make a decision like that if things go badly, but that’s why you work,” Osuna said of the changeup that struck out the All-Star Lindor. “That’s why you work away from games to work on your pitches. And also (Brian) McCann and (Max) Stassi they’re catchers with a lot of experience, catchers who have been here in this situation before. They facilitate the things a lot. The confidence they give you is important.”
Maldonado started Games 1 and 2, helping Justin Verlander and Cole dominate the Indians. He was on the bench for Game 3 while McCann started, but he entered in the seventh inning after manager A.J. Hinch hit for McCann in the top of the frame.
“It’s given me the opportunity the last two months to be with great starters, which is very impressive,” Maldonado said of the trade away from the Angels. “I had the mentality that this is a team that has been a champion. That’s why it was important to settle in as soon as possible.”
There’s no doubt that Maldonado was acquired for his defense, but his lone hit of the Division Series was an impressive one. He drilled a solo home run in Game 1 to collect the first postseason hit of his career.
“The fans give you a bit of a push,” Maldonado said. “When I was rounding the bases I couldn’t believe it. As a ballplayer this is when you want to play, in October baseball.”
Backing OF new teammates
Maldonado, Osuna and Ryan Pressly, who was acquired on July 27 from the Twins, have improved the Astros since they joined the club.
Pressly even came to Osuna’s defense during Game 3 in Cleveland when a fan was heckling Osuna. Pressly was caught on video imploring with the fan to quit taunting Osuna with talk about the domestic violence accusations.
Pressly’s actions in the Progressive Field bullpen on Monday were emblematic of the way Osuna has been welcomed since he was acquired by the Blue Jays.
The assault charges against Osuna, which stem from an incident with the mother of his child in Toronto in May, were withdrawn last month.
Osuna issued a statement after the charges were withdrawn and then vowed not to discuss the incident anymore.
He has turned his focus to helping the Astros defend the first World Series title in franchise history.
To that end, he has become an important part of the Astros’ bullpen and a welcome member of the team inside the clubhouse.
“I feel good,” said Osuna. “Truly, I have excellent teammates. They’ve shown confidence in me and they’ve given me support. I think that’s been fundamental for my confidence and the job I’ve done.”
Featured Image: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images Sport