HOUSTON -- The Astros have taken their already stellar defense up a notch. It must be October.
Houston manager Dusty Baker noted that games can’t be won on defense alone, but they can definitely be lost that way. The Astros made sure not to lose Game 2 of the American League Division Series, outlasting the White Sox in a 9-4 win on Friday and taking a 2-0 lead in the series in the process.
“There were four or five really great plays on defense,” Baker said. “Every great team I've been on [or managed], we played outstanding defense. Defense is something that we work on before we even hit. These guys take pride in defense, so that's something that I think is overlooked by a lot of clubs. But never on my club.”
Baker emphasized that nothing surprises him about the purely fundamental way his team plays defense. While waiting for the lineup to put together a big inning -- which the club did eventually with a five-run seventh -- Astros fielders held off Chicago with flawless fundamentals all over the diamond.
Without knocking one out of the park, it felt like the White Sox didn’t have a chance to string much of anything together due to the Astros’ defensive prowess. Houston’s one minor blunder came in the fifth inning, when third baseman Alex Bregman caught a line drive off the bat of Adam Engel, but accidently spiked the throw into the ground and missed an opportunity to double off Leury García. García would go on to score one of three Chicago runs that inning.
“We preach that every single day in our clubhouse, that defense wins championships,” Correa said. “We take a lot of pride in that. From the moment we showed up in Spring Training, we said, ‘Hey, let's try to be the No. 1 defensive team in the big leagues.’ Especially now in the playoffs, we're doing a great job with it. I said before the series that the team that plays the cleanest is going to win. And so far, we’ve played very clean.”
It started in the first inning, with Correa robbing a potential base hit from leadoff batter Tim Anderson. Anderson noted after the game that he knows the Astros’ defense wasn’t going to give him anything.
Later in the same inning, with the bases loaded, Altuve made a diving stop on an Eloy Jiménez grounder, allowing just one run to score instead of possibly more.
Kyle Tucker, who made a leaping grab to prevent a base hit and multiple runs scoring in the top of seventh inning, said he didn’t see it as a game-changing play in the moment. But by keeping the game tied, the offense was able to put up a big inning in the bottom half.
“I just tried to go all out for it,” Tucker said. “Our pitchers are out there working real hard. Any time we can make a catch or make a play to make it a little easier on them, it definitely helps out the team as a whole. To finish the inning with that big out, I think the momentum kind of changed and everyone was real excited.”
“He timed it perfectly, and they might have been off to the races had he not made that catch,” Baker added.
When asked which infielder he thinks improved the most defensively, first baseman Yuli Gurriel pointed to himself, noting that his teammates have always been good. That’s what has driven Houston in the playoffs these last five years.
“I think people don't always give the importance that they might need to for the defensive side of things,” Gurriel said. “I think in the playoffs especially, pitching and defense is what wins you games. You need to have a good defense if you want to be able to advance in the playoffs. We really have, I think, the best infield in the big leagues.”