BOSTON - After registering their 81st win last night, the Orioles are assured of their second consecutive non-losing season.
I’m fairly certain that they’re not aiming for .500, though. Dropping their last 11 games would probably be considered a huge disappointment.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the defense in the Orioles’ transformation from punchline to playoff contender. They’ve played 114 errorless games this season, the most in baseball since 1900.
The Orioles were the first team in major league history with 100 errorless games by the end of August.
“You’ve got guys like (J.J.) Hardy and (Adam) Jones and (Matt) Wieters - they take so much pride in it,” said manager Buck Showalter. “You bring a guy like Manny (Machado) up. It’s easy to talk to Chris (Davis) about really being the defender he’s capable of being. He came with defense.
“A lot of people forget that Nicky (Markakis) was a pitcher/first baseman out of college, and he’s worked hard at being a good outfielder. Nate McLouth’s won a Gold Glove.
“It’s part of every team. It’s not just us. We don’t have a corner on it. Boston’s gotten so much better defensively. So it’s something that, when the year’s over we may take a little extra feeling about it, but right now it’s something we’ve got to do in order to win baseball games.”
One of the biggest storylines of the winter and spring training involved Davis’ defense at first base and whether the Orioles were making a mistake handing him the job instead of re-signing Mark Reynolds or bringing in someone else. They signed Travis Ishikawa, a plus defender, to a minor league deal in case Davis faltered. They also signed Conor Jackson.
Jackson decided to retire, though he didn’t turn in the paperwork, and Ishikawa was designated for assignment. Meanwhile, Davis looks nothing like the player who had trouble catching the ball in 2012.
Looking back, it seems silly that the media - myself included - wasted so much energy on that topic.
If not for the 51 home runs, we might actually pay more attention to his mitt.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Davis said. “Going into spring training, we thought we had a good defensive team and we started working on it then. We had a few miscues here and there, but for the most part we’ve been solid all year. I think our pitching staff appreciates that, knowing that you can throw strikes and your defense is going to play behind you.”
They also seem to have mastered the shift, turning a 6-5-3 double play last night. Afterward, Showalter marveled at how easily Hardy played a tricky hop.
Wei-Yin Chen didn’t commit an error last night, but he was tentative fielding a bunt, which allowed the batter to reach base, and he failed to cover the bag later in the inning.
Chen made amends by starting a 1-2-3 double play to escape a bases-loaded jam in the third inning and snaring Daniel Nava’s liner up the middle in the fourth.
“Baseball’s a team sport and I’m not satisfied at all tonight,” Chen said through his interpreter. “This is the big leagues and I made a couple of mistakes and I paid the price. This is a lesson I need to learn and carry it on to the next level. I hope I have a better performance next time.
“Our defense, they did a great job tonight. That’s why I gave up 11 hits and I only gave up three runs. This is September right now, so I won’t give up.
“We’ve been playing really good baseball and we’re playing Orioles baseball. Right now, we’re just doing our job and keep going, keep going and make it to the playoffs.”