HOUSTON — Astros rightfielder Josh Reddick was kept in the starting lineup despite a historic slump simply because of his glove. And he was not even the best defensive rightfielder in the game. Aaron Judge stole the thunder, and robbed a home run with the latest in a series of theatrical plays.
And even that might not have been the most riveting fielding play in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. In the top of the fifth, with the Yankees threatening to break through and change the tide against starting pitcher Charlie Morton, third baseman Alex Bregman made a perfect catch and throw to retire Greg Bird at the plate. The catch and throw had to be perfect to make the play in an inning that turned out to be scoreless.
The bottom line is that defense is not a lost art. Far from it. Fielding is in vogue in baseball now, what with Fangraphs and other websites measuring it in previously unforeseen ways and with teams changing their alignments from batter to batter and pitch to pitch.
“Defense isn’t as cool to talk about as homers and strikeouts, but it’s important, especially this time of year,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before the game at Minute Maid Park. “All around the field when you really look back at the first six games, there have been huge defensive plays that get glossed over by fancy home runs and big strikeout rates.”
Hinch stood behind Reddick, whose flyout to right in the second inning tied him with Dal Maxvill of the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals for the longest hitless streak in postseason history (0-for-22). Reddick ended the drought with a single to left in the fourth, but his manager had been in his corner anyway. “He has had a spectacular defensive series,” Hinch said.
Not as spectacular as Judge, who had made two acrobatic catches in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. He outdid himself in the second inning Saturday night. As Yuli Gurriel hit a ball that seemed headed over the rightfield fence, Judge raced back, leaped, stretched out all of his 6-7 frame and kept it from going out.
The Astros eventually did go ahead 4-0, but who knows what the score might have been or where the momentum would have led had Bregman not made his clutch play with runners on first and third and one out. He snared Todd Frazier’s ground ball and immediately fired home, where catcher Brian McCann tagged Bird just before his front foot slid into the plate.
Right after that, second baseman Jose Altuve made his second sharp play from short rightfield against Chase Headley.
“For winning baseball games,” Hinch said, “you need to catch the ball. And you need to complete plays and you need 27 of those plays to be complete. Some are done by the pitcher with a punch-out, but more of them are done by your defense.”