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Cleveland’s perfect moment

In the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game, the stars aligned and baseball was at its most poetic

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

I’ll be the first — and joined by likely hundreds of thousands — to say that the Cleveland Guardians’ offense is not in the “what you like to see” realm right now. Over three games in two days, the lowly Detroit Tigers held the Guards to six runs, including a shutout that took about an hour and a half. Plainly someone in the Cleveland clubhouse had dinner reservations at the Little Ceasars flagship restaurant.

But sometimes, even when a team is at its nadir, even when it can’t seem to get out of its own way and just demands the opportunity to misfire and waste golden opportunities, every now and again the universe aligns and you get a perfect moment of baseball offense. We saw that in Wednesday’s series finale, in the top of the sixth inning.

It was lined up as you want any inning to start, with the top of the order and Steven Kwan first to the dish. We all love the young outfielder, and while he might never be anything like the 35 doubles, 15 homers kind of hitter that I dream of, he’s still near perfect as an archetypical leadoff hitter. Patience, a preternatural sense of his zone, a penchant for bloop hits, and speed when he needs it.

In the top of the sixth, those first two came to bear, and it was perfect. The pitch chart tells half the tale.

The headline being, he just didn’t even remove the bat from his shoulder. He made a half-hearted thought toward swinging at the fifth pitch, a called strike on the edge of the zone, which speaks to his own knowledge of what the zone looks like and when it’s a ball or a strike. It also lays more credence to the idea that, if he’s not swinging and it’s borderline, the ump should really give him a break and call the ball.

So Kwan worked the walk, and immediately Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull was in hot water. Kwan isn’t going to go Rickey Henderson or anything, but he’s smart, he picks his chances, and he’s ready to steal if the moment presents itself. This alone forced Turnbull to pay attention, and even throw over once.

While Kwan was pulling mental energy from Turnbull, we got the pleasant surprise of Andrés Giménez at the plate. He got the start as usual, but as is becoming hopefully a more regular thing, Francona actually batted his second-best hitter higher in the lineup. Giménez is also quite a bit more aggressive than Kwan, swinging at 50% of pitches last year compared to Kwan’s 37%. He’s also fast, and makes good contact, and can run into one, again all attributes of an ideal two-hole hitter. And swing he did, battling with Turnbull.

You’d think Turnbull would have tried to expand the zone a bit more, especially with how keyholed Giménez seemed to be on the area high and away. Instead, he gave just enough space to get the bat to it and gave up a nice little liner to center. Suddenly, two men were on, and the 2023 MVP was coming up.

I could go into more detail about this at-bat with José Ramírez, but who cares about that? He annihilated the ball:

The rest of the inning petered out, as Detroit changed pitchers and aside from Josh Naylor working a walk, nothing else happened. That was it offensively for the Guards, and while the pitching gave Detroit a hint of hope, they salvaged the win.

There are other good little markers from this game. Will Brennan looked composed and gutsy in his at-bats, getting a hit, but nothing came together so perfectly as in the top of the sixth. You don’t always get perfectly scripted moments like that, but when it comes together, and the manager looks like a genius for a second for putting these guys next to each other, you can’t help but smile.