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Steady defense a key part of Detroit's ALDS win

DETROIT -- The Tigers have justifiably taken a lot of heat for their defensive lapses this season. But in the American League Division Series, their defense was perhaps the ultimate difference.

They committed one error in the five games against the A's.

To put that in perspective, they made 12 in their final 20 regular-season contests.

There was nothing all that spectacular about it. They didn't rob any home runs. They didn't make any jaw-dropping diving stops. They just did the one thing they've stressed all season.

"We catch the ball in routine fashion," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We don't have exceptional range with some of our guys, but we do catch the ball on a regular basis. ... We do make the steady plays."

Rewind to Game 4. The Tigers owned a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. A's outfielder Coco Crisp was at the plate and Max Scherzer delivering on the mound.

Crisp smoked a ground ball at Prince Fielder, and the ball dribbled through the first baseman's legs. Crisp, who reached second on the play, proceeded to take third on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Stephen Drew.

What appeared to be a harmless play with Scherzer dealing five scoreless innings, sparked life into an Oakland offense. Scherzer was pulled, the bullpen took over, and although the unit performed admirably until the ninth inning, the result was a 4-3 loss.

That's the difference in the postseason. When the stakes are so high, and the teams are so good, the slightest mistake can be devastating. Fortunately for the Tigers, it proved to be their only one of the series.

"Pitching and defense wins in the playoffs," said catcher Alex Avila after Thursday night's series-clinching 6-0 win.

And looking at the opposite side, his words couldn't ring truer. But the defense let them down.

Three total errors. And each of them resulted in Tigers' runs.

Crisp's leaping catch to bring back a Fielder homer in Game 3 might be remembered as the play of the 2012 postseason. But his drop on a shallow pop fly in Game 2 -- plating the game-tying and go-ahead runs for Detroit -- will be remembered as the play that changed the course of the Tigers' season.

Jarrod Parker will be known as the rookie who had the unfortunate task of dueling Justin Verlander in two postseason contests. But he'll also be known as the guy who scooped a Quintin Berry ground ball past first base in Game 1, handing the Tigers a 2-1 lead that wouldn't be relinquished.

And Drew's error at shortstop with the bases loaded in Game 5. It didn't hold quite the same importance, as Detroit had broken open a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning. But it was the icing on the cake. The last run scored in the hard-fought series.

Verlander proceeded to finish off a shutout. Five of the last six outs were put in play, and the Tigers quickly fielded each ball knowing what transpired the night before.

"I think when you have someone like Verlander or [Doug] Fister or Scherzer, I think the guys are ready to make plays," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think the guys were pumped. They played a perfect game."

Going forward, Detroit will look for more of the same in the AL Championship Series, especially with runs being at a premium.

"We know that if we can pitch and catch the ball, we know we can score runs," catcher Gerald Laird said. "We have confidence in our ability to catch the ball, and we did a good job of it in this series."

Detroit Tigers