Comebacks and eighth innings aside, one of the most pleasing sights in the first two games of the American League Division Series has to be that the Orioles' stellar defense is back.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter makes it clear that it's your glove that moves you up through the minor league system and it's defense that keeps you in the majors. He uses Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty as examples that the Orioles are willing to let players work through their offensive struggles as long as they are sound defensively.
And even though the Orioles were playing for little more than a faint shot at the AL's best record over the season's last week – who wants to play Kansas City these days, anyway – the club's defense was shoddy.
The Orioles committed nine errors over the final seven regular season games, including two three-error games over the final four. Orioles third basemen were the biggest culprits.
So, it's refreshing to see that the Orioles have not only been errorless in their first two playoff games, they have made high-impact defensive plays.
"I think this organization obviously puts a lot of emphasis on defense and catching the ball," said third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who made a diving stop on Miguel Cabrera's grounder in the fifth inning to start a key 5-4-3 double play. "I think the last couple weeks of the season, we got a little sloppy there as a team. But in games like this in the postseason, defense ends up winning and losing games. You're got to concentrate on every pitch and make the play when it's hit to you."
Right-hander Kevin Gausman had just allowed a leadoff single to Torii Hunter to open the fifth, bringing Cabrera to the plate.
Cabrera rocketed a ball into the hole that Flaherty ranged to his left and made a diving play on, throwing to Schoop at second to get the lead runner. Schoop quickly threw to first to get the plodding Cabrera for the double play.
With the Tigers already holding a 5-3 lead, Gausman needed to limit the damage, and that play foiled what could have been a big inning for Detroit with more big bats looming.
"With that team hitting, you can't give them any more hits than they're going to get already," Flaherty said. "He hit the ball and both me and J.J. went for it. Just being a third baseman I've got to be there before him and I was honestly just thinking about trying to get an out. I got it to Jonathan and he obviously has a great arm and he had other thoughts about getting the double play."
Asked in postgame interviews about the double play, Hardy joked that he didn't have a good view of the whole play.
"I actually dove for that ball, too, so I didn't get to see how good Schoopy turned it," Hardy said. "Ryan Flaherty made a great turn, showed a lot of range and Schoopy with his quick release, impressive."
Quipped Gausman: "I didn't dive, so I saw it all. But it was incredible. Right when he dove, I thought maybe, All right, we'll get the lead runner and with Schoopy's arm, I feel like we always have a chance, so it was a pretty big play for us."
Schoop was also in the middle of another play that saved a run. With two on and no outs in the eighth, Victor Martinez hit a double to center field that plated one run, but Adam Jones made a pinpoint throw to Schoop, who threw out Cabrera at home by two steps.
"It was a perfect relay," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "Jonesy made a perfect play to Schoopy and I was screaming four [to throw home] and he made a perfect throw to [catcher] Caleb [Joseph]. That's how you write it up. In a one-run game, it's huge whenever you get an out at the plate."