The first error Elvis Andrus committed in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series, a bobbled grounder to shortstop, wasn’t the end of the world, really.
It allowed Toronto’s leadoff man to reach and gave life to the foaming-at-the-mouth Blue Jays, but, hey, errors happen and often are easily overcome.
But his second error, a dropped throw at third base that followed a Mitch Moreland throwing error, at the least was going to lead to a tied game and possibly worse.
Worse happened. The Texas Rangers saw a 3-2 lead with nine outs to go bobbled and bat-flipped into a 6-3 loss and a trip into the off-season.
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Andrus was left to shoulder the blame, which he did at his Rogers Centre locker. He carried that game well into the off-season, and because of those errors he had a choice.
This is the toughest time of my career right now. I know I could make those plays a hundred times. I’m in a lot of pain right now. I feel I let down my team. I feel I let down my city.
Elvis Andrus after Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS
The moment could define his career or, as he is intending, it could be the moment that motivates him to reshape his career.
“It is,” Andrus said Thursday before making his second start of the spring. “I’m trying to maintain calm and go though the process right now. The way I feel inside I want the season to be here. I want to be able to get back to October and be in that situation again.”
Manager Jeff Banister thinks that it’s unfair to judge Andrus’ career based on one inning of one game, no matter the magnitude, but agrees that it should be a moment Andrus uses to push himself this season.
Banister has seen it so far, saying Andrus has been more zeroed in during the first two games.
“That wasn’t an defining moment. It was an outcome,” Banister said. “Elvis had a bad game. Players have bad games. We don’t get to choose when we have bad games. They happen.
“We can all pile onto one game, but I think Elvis is a pretty resilient player. Should he use it? Absolutely. I hope he uses it to continue himself to stay engaged.”
It will take more than just words a month before Opening Day for Andrus to effect change, and he knows it. He is using spring training as a key piece in his plan to increase his focus from pitch to pitch.
Andrus is fully capable of making the spectacular play, as he does when he ranges into the hole between third base and shortstop, backhands a grounder and jumps and throws to first base.
Elvis Andrus is the Rangers’ franchise leader at shortstop in putouts (1,678), games (1,052), starts (1,032), total chances (4,689), assists (2,878) and double plays (685).
But good defense is rooted in making the routine play and turning an out into an out. It takes focus on each pitch, something infield coach Tony Beasley has been pounding into Andrus each day.
“It’s just more myself,” Andrus said. “I have seven years already in the league. I know what I need to do. It’s something good to do in spring training. I’m trying to beat the game mentally, be in every pitch, be ready for every throw. Right now, I’m going game by game.
“The routine is what this game is about, not only defense but hitting, too. The little things. You have to focus more. It’s been my problem. I’ve lost a little bit of focus or had bad habits. That’s something I’m really working on right now.”
Andrus continues to set the ultimate fielding goal of winning a Gold Glove, something that he was expected to do after debuting in the majors in 2009 at age 19. He finished in the top three in 2012, but is still seeking his first piece of hardware.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre has four Gold Gloves. Winning one isn’t easy at baseball’s highest level, but Andrus has the tools to do it.
“Easily,” Beltre said. “But he has the talent, he has a great arm and he has instincts for the game. He just needs to take the next step of being more consistent the whole year round.”
1,678 Putouts since 2009 for Elvis Andrus, the most in the majors by a shortstop
Andrus committed 22 errors in 2015, second most in the AL and second most in his career (25 in 2011). Alcides Escobar, the Gold Glove winner, made 13 errors for Kansas City. J.J. Hardy committed six errors in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 13 in 2014 while winning three straight Gold Gloves.
Andrus, though, made only four over the final 63 games, including an errorless streak of 178 chances over 35 games from Aug. 13 to Sept. 18. He had more chances (786), assists (516), putouts (248) and double plays (114) in the league.
Each category was a career high. To reach his golden goal in 2016, and to make sure Game 5 of the ALDS isn’t his career-defining moment, Andrus needs to establish a career high in focus.
He thinks he’s on his way.
“Focus-wise, I feel a lot better,” said Andrus, 27. “I kind of feel energized. I’m in a great spot in my career, especially mentally.”