What Josh Naylor lacks in speed he makes up for in pure energy and raw, maple syrup-flavored power. It was all on full display tonight as he walked off the Twins, 7-6, with a two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and proceeded to react in typical Josh Naylor fashion — by going absolutely batshit in celebration.
There were headbutts, flying helmets, and hand-crushing high-fives. Everything you would expect from a typical Naylor victory celebration — it was glorious. Tito even came prepared with a helmet just in case, but it didn’t stop him from taking one to the noggin.
Now, make no mistake, without Naylor taking a low-and-away fastball and putting it into the concourse behind left field this would be a very different recap. The Guardians watched a three-run lead evaporate without much of a fight, and it looked like they were headed for another depressing loss to the Twins. It would have been their seventh loss in eight games as they bottomed out at the worst possible time.
Instead, Naylor played the hero, and the Guards can take the series and the AL Central lead with a win in the series finale tomorrow.
Cal Quantrill, for his part, pitched a career-high eight innings. While he didn’t issue a single walk and mostly didn’t give up hard contact, his mini-collapse in the sixth inning set up a brutal few innings for the Guardians. After five solid innings and two quick outs in the sixth, he gave up a double to Gary Sanchez followed by back-to-back homers to Alex Kiriloff and Gio Urshela. With two outs, the game went from an easy 3-0 lead to a crushing 3-3 tie in the blink of an eye. And it stayed that way throughout regulation innings.
Those were his only real mistakes on the night as he threw 97 pitches with an average exit velocity of just 87.5 mph. He was all sinkers and cutters tonight with only a handful of sliders, which is a trend we’ve seen a lot from him this season. Maybe he’s finally found the secret sauce to being a weak-contact ground-ball hitter again. I certainly wouldn’t mind eight innings like this every five days.
Terry Francona’s bullpen usage gets a lot of flack, but give him credit for using Emmanuel Clase correctly tonight. Tito turned to his “closer” with the game tied in the top of the ninth, assuming his offense could get across a single run in the bottom of the frame. Clase did his job keeping the Twins off the board, but the offense didn’t score. So it didn’t “work out” immediately, but process over results in this game. I think it’s the right call, whether or not the Guardians ended up walking off an inning later.
Eli Morgan — who was given the “win” because, sure, why not — didn’t use his changeup to its fullest potential tonight. Pitching in the crucial top of the 10th, he only threw it once to Carlos Correa and got extremely predictable with it against Max Kepler. So predictable, in fact, that Kepler took one of those changeups that caught too much of the plate and launched it 102.7 mph for a go-ahead home run. Which, again, put yourself in the mindset of a fan who just watched this game prior to the bottom of the 10th — it was crushing.
The Guardians’ bullpen depth has been tested over this long stretch of games and so far they haven’t passed with flying colors.
Aside from Naylor, Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario stood out on the offense side of the ball. Kwan, batting lead-off, went 3-for-4 (and walked to get on base in the 10th) and Rosario behind him notched four hits. Kwan snapped a two-game hitless streak and Rosario had his 10th multi-hit game in June. The dramatic finish doesn’t happen without Naylor’s bomb, but it would never have been close without those two anchoring the top of the lineup like they did tonight.
José Ramírez’s struggles at the plate are a conversation worth having — the Twins weren’t even afraid to face him with first base open in the 10th — as are Franmil Reyes continued atrocious at-bats every night.
We can shelve that for the night, though, because it came down to the wire, but by the baseball gods, The Guardiac Kids live.