Like General Grievous’s Invisible Hand Providence-class Dreadnought that Anakin Skywalker expertly landed on a Coruscant runway in the opening act of Revenge of the Sith, the Guardians started the night as a juggernaut running on all cylinders and ended as a smoldering, half-broken shell of itself that somehow didn’t blow up on impact.
And like Anakin Skywalker, who I’m sure went on to do some charity work or something after the ordeal (I don’t know I never watched the films), the Guardians somehow walked away victorious.
Somehow, despite the last 20 batters going down without getting on base, despite their starting pitcher imploding like a dying star, and despite the opposing team loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth, the Guardians won tonight, 3-2.
Part of that is “oh, they’re the Tigers.” Sure, granted. But don’t tell me a lot of teams — including this one, like a month ago — wouldn’t wilt under the various pressures put on them tonight. The resolve by this pitching staff and defense was on full display tonight, even if the offense died after the third inning.
If you didn’t watch this game live, words can’t quite describe the massive momentum shift that occurred after the third inning. Through that point, the Guardians were cruising — at times, it looked like they were capable of dropping double digits on the hapless Tigers. Steven Kwan led off the game with a triple and José Ramírez singled him in to start the scoring right away. Will Benson even got his first hit in the second inning, an RBI double that plated Andrés Giménez. Benson was moved over by an Austin Hedges single, and a batter later he came home on a Myles Straw fielder’s choice.
The Guards rallied for two hits in the third, but no runs scored. They still looked good. They were hitting Drew Hutchison hard. And, oh yeah, Aaron Civale was working a perfect game by the time the third was finished. Things were clicking.
Then the clock struck midnight and
embiggened empumpkined the whole team. The second time through the order was a killer for Civale. Riley Greene broke up the perfect game with a double and two more hits followed down the line, shrinking Cleveland’s lead to 3-2.
Also in that inning, Javy Báez, in his infinite wisdom, decided to stare down Civale as if he was intentionally hit. Maybe he thought the hit was a message of support for Al Avila? I don’t know, but either way Josh Naylor wasn’t having it — he walked to the front of the pitcher’s mound and followed Báez step-for-step down to first base probably silently hoping Báez would mess around and find out.
While it would have been nice for Civale to maintain the dominance he showed in the first three innings, it was nice to at least see a spark out of him in his first start since the All-Star break. He leaned on his cutter for 29 of his 62 pitches and induced three swinging strikes on 20 swings. By the fourth inning, though, he just couldn’t locate anything on the edge of the zone. Either he missed or he caught the meat of the plate pitch after pitch.
While Andrés Giménez might be known for clutch hits in the ninth or later, don’t sleep on the clutch defensive play he made in the bottom of the fifth. When reliever Sam Hentges put runners on the corners with no outs, a groundball came to Giménez. It was a routine double-play on the surface, but he immediately went home with it, catching Jonathan Schoop half asleep and trying to score. If that out didn’t occur, we’d probably be in the 10th inning right now. Maybe the 11th. Maybe ... the 12th.
But it didn’t, and the Guardians held on to win. Hentges, Nick Sandlin, Bryan Shaw, Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak, and Emmanuel Clase combined to pick up their starting pitcher and lifeless offensive for five scoreless innings to close it out and give Cleveland sole possession of the AL Central lead (for now).