HOUSTON -- Each part moved in tandem. When Corey Seager hit a hard, bouncing ball to the right side on Friday night, Yuli Gurriel ranged over from first base, waited for the high hop and snared it. As Gurriel turned his shoulders, Carlos Correa was already gliding over to second
HOUSTON -- Each part moved in tandem. When Corey Seager hit a hard, bouncing ball to the right side on Friday night, Yuli Gurriel ranged over from first base, waited for the high hop and snared it. As Gurriel turned his shoulders, Carlos Correa was already gliding over to second base. He received Gurriel's throw, cocked his arm to the side and fired on the run to Lance McCullers, who was charging over from the pitcher's mound.
"Yuli to Carlos, Carlos to me," McCullers said of the run-scoring, 3-6-1 double play that snuffed out a promising third-inning Dodgers rally. "Great play all around."
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Both outs secure, McCullers let out a yelp. He and Brad Peacock held the Dodgers' deep offense in check in Game 3 of the World Series, a 5-3 victory that gave the Astros a 2-1 Series lead. Houston's offense continued its renaissance during a four-run second inning. But it was defense -- not always a given for this Astros team -- that made perhaps the greatest difference at Minute Maid Park.
"The way that our team has been playing out in the field is huge," center fielder George Springer said.
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Springer understands this sort of thing as much as anyone. With a man on second base and two outs in the fifth inning, Chris Taylor hit a line drive to shallow left-center field. Racing over from his starting point, Springer covered 66 feet in about two and a half seconds, according to Statcast™ data. He dove, snaring the ball, perhaps saving a run in the process. (Springer also ended the first inning with a running catch deep in center field to take away extra bases from Justin Turner.)
An inning earlier, Yasiel Puig hit a ground ball down the left-field line, where it glanced off Alex Bregman's glove and skidded into foul ground near the seats. This time it was Correa who hit the turbo button, sprinting over, retrieving the ball and firing a 140-foot strike to second base to cut down an unsuspecting Puig.
In the seventh inning, Gurriel delivered once more, grabbing a bouncing ball to his right, turning, and diving head-first to beat Taylor back to the bag.
These types of defensive plays are not always the status quo for the Astros, who put up negative Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating totals during the regular season. To make up for it, they were one of baseball's most aggressive teams in employing shifts, also leaning on a strikeout-heavy pitching staff that limited balls in play.
But the Astros borrowed from an old baseball axiom, placing their strongest defenders up the middle. Jose Altuve, Correa and Springer provided positive contributions at second base, shortstop and center field, respectively, giving the Astros a solid defensive foundation in spite of what the overall team metrics said.
"We have athletes all over the field," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We do execute plays. We handle the ball pretty cleanly -- it's something we talk about a lot. To see it on the biggest stage is why we're having the success that we're having. These plays are not easy."
Particularly not the third-inning double play, which increased Houston's win expectancy from 72 to 82 percent. Although the Astros had taken a four-run lead a half-inning earlier, they threatened to give it all back when McCullers walked the bases loaded with no outs. Seager, the batter, said he wanted to "elevate a ball, try and scratch out a run." Even a well-placed grounder would have helped.
Instead, the Astros traded two outs for a run, setting the tone on a night that placed a premium on leather.
"Big play by Lance there -- it's not easy for a pitcher to cover," Astros catcher Brian McCann said. "Gurriel made an unbelievable throw, Correa was slick at second. To turn that double play is hard and they made it look easy."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.