The Cleveland Guardians have scored four runs in 33 innings of postseason baseball.
They are going to have to do a lot better than that if they hope to make it out of the ALDS after dropping Tuesday night’s series opener, 4-1, to the New York Yankees.
All four of the Guardians’ runs this posteason have come courtesy of the home run ball, which is a red flag for an offense that has never lived and died by the long ball. Steven Kwan’s solo home run in the third inning against Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole was all the offense Cleveland could muster. Their best opportunity to add on came in that very same inning, as Jose Ramirez lined a one-out double into the gap in left-center to put runners on second and third with one out.
Sadly, none of the next three batters could get the ball out of the infield. Josh Naylor ended up reaching on an infield single but neither of the runners advanced. Oscar Gonzalez swung at a first-pitch slider and grounded into a fielder’s choice, with the Yankees getting the automatic out at home. Finally, Andres Gimenez struck out to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
The Guardians never really threatened after that, allowing Cole to settle in and make it through 6.1 innings. The closest they came was the seventh inning, when back-to-back one-out singles by Myles Straw and Kwan put runners on first and second. But New York reliever Jonathan Loáisiga got Amed Rosario to ground into an inning-ending double play to the end the threat.
On the mound for Cleveland, Cal Quantrill was solid... up to a point. We’ll get to that point in a bit, but Quantrill held the Yankees scoreless until the third inning, at which point he followed Shane Bieber’s lead and gave up a solo home run to the No. 9 hitter, Harrison Bader. The homer knotted the score at 1-1, though that tie would only last until the fourth inning.
The bottom of the fourth got off to an ignominious start for Josh Donaldson, who lined a ball off the top of the wall in right field and went into a home run trot, oblivious to the fact that he did not hit a home run. Oscar Gonzalez threw the ball in to the infield and a very confused Donaldson was then chased back to first base, where he was tagged out by Josh Naylor. Unfortunately, the next ball to come Gonzalez’s way in right field went through his legs, putting Isiah Kiner-Falefa on third base with one out. He would score on a Jose Trevino sac fly, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Then came the most inexcusable error of the game, courtesy of manager Terry Francona.
With two days of rest under their belt and an off day Wednesday, there was no reason not to turn it over to the bullpen after the fifth inning. For reasons unknown, Francona decided to take his chances with Quantrill a third time through the order. The consequences were swift. Quantrill walked Judge and then served up a two-run homer to Anthony Rizzo to extend the Yankees’ lead to 4-1, at which point Francona gave Quantrill the hook and made the call to the bullpen.
Quantrill was good enough for five innings. There was no reason to push for six. With that one decision, Francona helped turn a one-run game into a three-run deficit.
Once the damage was done, the Cleveland bullpen went to work, and Trevor Stephan, Enyel De Los Santos, and James Karinchak held New York scoreless over the last three frames.
We’ll see you Thursday (or perhaps Friday, if the forecast is to be believed), when hopefully the Guardians will have found a spark for their sputtering offense.