So that really just happened, huh?
The Cleveland Guardians entered the ninth inning against the New York Yankees down 5-3 after maybe their flattest inning of the entire postseason and just ... won. The youngest team in baseball was staring down a powerhouse team that eats dingers for breakfast and they just kept hitting, and hitting, and hitting. By the end, they outhit the Yankees, 15-5, and outscored them, 6-5.
Before getting to the first eight innings, I want to talk about the walk-off. It’s all I want to talk about, actually. Forever.
It started with Luke Maile flying out. OK, fine. There wasn’t really anyone left on the bench worth pinch-hitting for him with Wandy Peralta on the mound. If Tito is determined to keep Bo Naylor is an emergency for an emergency of an emergency backup catcher, I’m fine not pulling Maile there.
But with that said, at this point it felt pretty much over, I cannot lie. The eighth inning was so deflating to watch as Oscar Gonzalez, Andres Gimenez, and Gabriel Arias went down basically without a fight.
Back to the ninth.
Myles Straw was next — 0-for-3 at this point, not looking like much of a threat. To be fair, he did have a hard hit in the sixth inning (98.8 mph), but it was an unlucky lineout straight to second base. But what’s this? In the ninth, he popped a fly ball that landed just in front of a sliding Yankees left fielder. Straw, emanating the pure hustle energy that got the team to this point, took the opportunity to scramble to second. On a pop-up that barely made it to the outfield.
Some life? Perhaps, but it’s nothing without some help from his friends.
Enter Steven Kwan — already with two hits on the night with a strikeout and an RBI. One hard hit in the first inning, but a bunch of soft stuff every at-bat since. To his credit, the ump screwed this poor kid all night. Multiple balls that weren’t even close were called strikes. It was a horrid strike zone in general, but Kwan seemed to be the Guardians batter on the receiving end of most of blue’s incompetence. Look at this garbage.
Steven Kwan knows a strike when he sees one. If he doesn’t swing, it’s a ball. Period. Take a lap, ump.
Anway, Kwan responded by taking an outside pitch and blooping it in basically the same spot as Straw’s single a batter earlier. They were playing Kwan deeper, though, so the left fielder was in a better position to just field it off the hop instead of trying a daring dive. The result? Runners at the corners, no outs.
After a pitching change to Clarke Schmidt, Amed Rosario came up next, and now things started to look spicy. Rosario finished 2022 with what I will call “too many” groundball double-play outs. I thought for sure he’d do it again here, but no. Like he’s done all season, and like this Guardians team has done all season, he proved the doubters wrong.
He, too, hit it to left field with a seeing-eye grounder between third base and short. He plated Myles Straw and brought the game within one.
Runners at first and second, one out. Heart of the order up.
José Ramírez did exactly what he was supposed to, with yet another hit to the left side of the infield that was just far enough for him to reach first base without a throw. Bases loaded, one out.
An injured Josh Naylor strode to the plate next, the team’s designated hitter after he injured his foot on a sprint to first Friday night. He looked awful in the at-bat, and recorded his third strikeout of the game. The man is clearly just working through it right now. Bases loaded, two outs.
At this point, there’s only one though: Were the Guardians really going to squander another golden opportunity? They already let the Yankees back into the game by letting Luis Severino off the hook earlier. Were they about to lose the game with the bases juiced? Were they really going to outhit the Yankees by nine hits and still lose?
Are you ready kids?
Oscar Gonzalez came to the plate next, SpongeBob blaring over the PA system, less than a week after lifting the Guardians to the ALDS with a walk-off home run in the 15th inning against the Rays. And by god, he did it again.
He made Guardians fans sweat first, taking the count to 1-2 and fouling off a pitch, but he extended to get a really well-placed breaking ball on the outer edge of the zone, reached out, and sent it over the second baseman’s head into center field.
Look at where this pitch was. That's just willing yourself to win the game. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/cLGIRxI6uR— Matt Lyons (@mattrly) October 16, 2022
With two outs, everyone was running — most importantly, Amed Rosario (who represented the winning run) bolted from second base and was already well past home plate and celebrating with his teammates by the time the camera came back to home plate.
What a game. What a team.
Part of the reason the comeback was even able to happen was because of the runs they tagged on Luis Severino in the first two innings. Guards batters were all over him early, driving his pitch count up and electrifying Progressive Field. Aaron Judge hit his first home run of the postseason in the top of the third, however, and it really seemed to take the wind out of the fans, and even the team. It only tied the game, but the massive momentum shift it presented seemed to help keep Severino in the game and mowing down Guards batters.
If the Guardians didn’t come back, I would have pointed to that moment they lost the game — and if it came to it tomorrow — the series.
Luckily, y’know. Everything else.
Triston McKenzie proved to be home run prone in his start, but it could have been so much worse. He gave up a big one to Judge and another two-run homer in the top of the fifth, but that was it. Not an ideal out, but hardly terrible. Sam Hentges gave up the first bullpen runs of the postseason with a Harrison Bader home run in the seventh, but the bleeding stopped there to set up the dramatic comeback.
Also, huge props to Terry Francona for this game. Every nit that I tend to pick about his decision-making was rectified tonight. He pulled McKenzie to start the sixth inning instead of waiting for him to give up a baserunner, he pinch-hit for Austin Hedges in a clutch situation, and he worked his bullpen flawlessly.
Now, let’s do it again tomorrow.