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Finding Joy in a Disappointing Season

Eli’s Top Ten Moments of the Season

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes when you don’t make the postseason (especially after a year where we had pretty high expectations going in) the whole season can feel like a wash. But now that a little time has passed and I’ve been able to reflect on the year, it’s clear the Guardians had some great moments in 2023. What follows is not at all meant to be an objective list of the top ten “best” things (however one might define the word ‘best’) that the team did this season. I don’t even know if one could call it a list of the ten greatest plays, or the most important wins, or anything else that matters as far as the team’s statistics or record, though it might overlap with some of those things at points. Rather, it is merely a list of my top ten favorite moments this year; ten times I remembered why I love baseball so much; ten times throughout the course of the long season that made watching every inning (sometimes every long and painful inning—looking at you, Trevor Stephan) worth it in the end. So, without further ado, here’s ten things I loved about Guardians baseball in 2023.

  1. Both Naylors hit home runs in the same inning. This was right after the All-Star break, in Texas. The rest of that series, and, in fact, the rest of that game, was absolutely miserable, since the Guardians were playing the Texas Rangers when they were just about at their hottest, but this was a fantastic bright spot. To see both Josh and Bo Naylor go deep in the same inning provided what is hopefully only just the beginning of what we might get to see in the future with both of them in the same lineup.
  2. The extra-inning win against Tampa Bay at home. I went to this game, near the end of the season, with my friend Ryan, who actually lives in the Tampa area. We were using my Season Ticket Rewards Points to watch the fireworks from the dugout at the end of the game, and the Guardians sent me a list of rules that specifically said it was not allowed to wear gear for the opposing team down on the field. I have no idea why that would matter, but it meant Ryan couldn’t wear his Tampa Bay Rays hat, and I found this hilarious. We had to go wait for the end of the game in some special area by the end of the eighth inning. Some games, even if the Guardians had been losing the whole time, you just feel like they will come back to win. This game wasn’t like that. I was certain it was over, so when I watched us come from behind on a little TV on the concourse, I snuck into the Home Plate Club to watch the extras. That walk-off sacrifice fly was so shallow, I started to scream “DON’T SEND HIM” and watched, in horror, as Mike Sarbaugh did anyways. But it worked, somehow. At the end of the night, Ryan almost left his baseball glove in the visitors dugout, and when staff asked him if it was his, he angrily muttered something about how he was leaving it for the Rays to help them play better. Victory is always sweeter when your best friend was rooting for the opposite team.
  3. Bo Naylor’s first hit. Bo had been up for a bit by this point, and everyone at the game was really pulling for him to get his hit. At one point, a spontaneous chant, a repeated “LET’S GO BO” broke out during his at bat. When he got his hit, we chanted it again. Obviously, there was no doubt, in my mind at least, that Bo was going to hit, and not just singles either. But it was extremely wholesome to be part of the crowd as we all pulled together for the same, simple thing.
  4. Kole Calhoun grand slam in Minnesota. When the Guardians first added Kole Calhoun, I didn’t want to like him. I felt like he was just an excuse for Terry Francona to play him instead of the younger guys. But you can’t help but like Kole Calhoun. He’s obviously exactly the kind of player Tito would love. He may be older, but there’s no doubt he leaves it all on the field and that he was respected and liked in the clubhouse. There were a couple of moments when he backed up his veteran leadership with his play on the field, including an incredible diving catch in the outfield that I thought truly defied physics because I didn’t think a body like his could do that. But nothing was more Kole Calhoun-like than that grand slam in extra-innings in Minnesota. At the time, the Guardians absolutely needed that game. And he didn’t just get a clutch hit, he got the kind of clutch hit (on a 3-0 count!!) that puts the nail in the coffin and sucks all life out of the opposition. In that moment, I had hope that even this weird team, with hardly any offensive power and a sketchy bullpen, could still do it.
  5. Josh Naylor single-handedly destroys the Angels hopes and dreams. Speaking of sucking all life out of the opposition, I think Josh Naylor actually did that to the Angels when they visited Cleveland. It’s one thing to hit a clutch home run in the 8th inning when your team hasn’t been playing well and needs a boost. It’s another thing to come out the next night and somehow do the exact same thing again. But THREE times!? The fact that he even managed to be in that situation in the 8th inning in three games in a row is incredible when you think about the flow of a baseball game. And he hit a home run all three times. There’s no better definition of clutch than that.
  6. Tanner Bibee. No one wanted to see the Guardians pitching rotation get absolutely decimated by injuries. I hated to miss out on a year of Triston McKenzie, because I really thought he’d break out this year. But, the other side of that coin was getting to see our pitchers of the future have break out seasons. I was impressed by all the Guardians’ rookie pitchers. They really carried the team, sometimes with hardly any run support, and it’s a testament to how good they were that the Guardians had a chance at the playoffs for as long as they did. But Tanner was my favorite. Not just his pitching, but the way that he gave very analytical and accurate critiques of his own performance in post-game interviews, and how he always was able to articulate both what he was trying to do and how well he did or didn’t do it, makes me zero in on him as a future ace. He knows how to pitch, he knows how to think about pitching, and he knows how to make adjustments. The future for this team’s starting rotation is bright.
  7. Play at the plate against Atlanta. I don’t even remember too much about the context of this play happening, other than that if the Guardians had not thrown out this Atlanta Braves’ runner, they were losing the game. But Myles Straw made just about the prettiest throw I have ever seen from the outfield. I want video of that throw being played on loop at my funeral. That’s how pretty it was.
  8. Jose Ramirez steals home. I almost missed this one because I was looking at my phone. It’s just a normal old game on a Sunday afternoon, and I’m only half-watching, and suddenly Jose Ramirez is sliding into home to the surprise of absolutely everyone. Every single day, I am incredibly grateful that Jose Ramirez is a major league baseball player and he plays for Cleveland.
  9. Myles Straw hit a home run. If you follow me on X (formerly known as Twitter), you’ll know that loving and respecting Myles Straw is part of my brand. Listen, I know what you’re all going to say. He cannot hit. I know this. There are all kinds of (completely valid) questions about his future in our outfield and what that might look like. (Though I keep praying he’ll have a resurgence with his bat). But I love him, purely based on defense and vibes. And I spent the ENTIRE SEASON telling myself and him and everyone else that we was going to hit a home run this year. He had a couple times where he came close and I only cried a little. But then it was late in the season and he still hadn’t hit one. When he finally did it in Tampa, I had just gotten home and turned on the game less than five minutes prior, and I was so glad he waited until I could see it. I hadn’t even taken my shoes off yet. That’s how close I was to missing it. I was literally prancing around my living room after he hit that home run, I was so happy for him. I’m not sure the season could have ever felt complete if Myles hadn’t finally gone deep.
  10. Extra-Innings win against the Astros on Pride Night. This was my favorite game of the year. Due to a wild set of circumstances that could only happen in the sitcom that is my life, I had been in downtown Cleveland that day since 8 AM, and also randomly ended up on an elevator (that I only vaguely had permission to be on) with Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, who both looked put-off about my existence on said elevator. Then, of course, the game lasted until the early hours of the morning, and I could hardly think straight by the end. On the one hand, the result didn’t surprise me. Even though the Guardians were losing most of the game, it just felt like a game they would win. Maybe it was because I had been awake since 6 in the morning, maybe it was because I was really happy about Pride Night, but for whatever reason, I just never felt like losing this game was in the cards. I was sitting next to a young woman I did not know, and it felt like we were bosom friends by the end. At the start of each new extra inning she would say something like “Ok, we were able to stop them from scoring last inning, so we can do that again. Right?” “Right,” I’d agree nervously, and so we bonded through our perpetual anxiety of every out. The entire section just kept on getting more and more unhinged. At one point, I said that if David Fry ended this game, I would sing a song. Someone behind me said they ought to keep selling beer because of how stressful this was. A guy a few rows below asked if they would still have the fireworks “if the sun was starting to come up?” That game was the most fun I had at the stadium all year, and probably ranks up there in my all-time favorite games list. And getting that particular win against the Astros made it even better.

Honorable Mention: Jose Ramirez punched Tim Anderson. I didn’t count this in my official list because it wasn’t technically a moment in game action. But it was beautiful, it was everything I didn’t know I needed. And it turned out that it seems most of the Major League baseball world has wanted to do that for years. A great side effect of the knock-out punch was to see how much other players in the league truly respect Jose Ramirez (and truly don’t respect Tim Anderson, apparently). And, players on other teams were listening to Tom Hamilton shout “DOWN GOES ANDERSON! DOWN GOES ANDERSON!” It was fun to be the center of attention for a few days. My two favorite parts about the fight were everyone singing the Jose song while Jose stood alone on second base for actual minutes of time, and then, right after the fight, when everyone was still flustered and trying to get organized so that we could play again, Oscar Gonzalez was hitting next, so in the midst of all that chaos we all suddenly heard the cheerful sounds of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song blasting through the stadium. Jose Tena made his MLB debut running for Ramirez after he got ejected, which has to be the best story for him to be able to tell his grandkids some day. I have an hour drive home after games, and I think I grinned the whole way. Cleveland had actually lost the game, but it felt like we won.

As I said, this was not meant to be an objective list. Everyone has different parts of a season that they remember, for different reasons. So even if the season didn’t end the way we hoped it would back in March, I do hope that everyone had at least ten moments like this throughout the season, that everyone was able to experience ten things that brought real joy, no matter how everything played out in the end.