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Hunter Gaddis came up big when the Guardians needed him most

Tim Herrin, please report to the principal’s office

Cleveland Guardians v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Listen, they can’t all be picture-perfect. The Guardians won a game today that the history books will see as a 6-4 extra-inning victory, but everyone who watched it live will remember the terror of that last Jesús Aguilar swing. I can’t be the only one who thought he hit another home run for a minute there, right? Maybe I was still shell-shocked from the first one.

Regardless, the ball went straight into Oscar Gonzalez’s glove — nowhere near the wall — and Emmanuel Clase got out of the 10th inning unscathed to give the Guardians another series win. They ended their brutal seven-game West Coast trip to start the season with a 5-2 record and will take a day off tomorrow before playing an early game in Cleveland against the Mariners on Friday.

To even get to the point where Clase saved the game, the Guardians needed Hunter Gaddis to step up like he hadn’t so far in his brief major-league career. There was a lot of pressure on the second-year pitcher to come out and eat some innings and protect the gassed bullpen, and that’s exactly what he did. He pitched out of the gate like he knew he had to perform, pushing his fastball to a peak of 95.6 in the first inning — a little over a mile-per-hour higher than his average last season. That eventually settled down closer to 93 mph, but it was more than enough to play off his plus-changeup.

It was mentioned on the broadcast — and it’s been mentioned many times before — that Gaddis’s release point might have been tipping his changeup last year. That seemed to be cleaned up a bit today.

By the end of his six innings of work, he threw 77 pitches, and the average exit velocity on all of them was a mere 78.6 mph. There were no balls hit harder than 100 mph. He may not be a strikeout machine, but he showed the ability to limit hard contact today. And don’t tell me “it’s only the A’s.” Ask Zach Plesac about “it’s only the A’s.”

Gaddis’s changeup was used 10 times, though it only induced two swings and misses and one called strike. Three were hit for weak outs and a couple were fouled off — the A’s weren’t even close to doing damage off of it. His curveball also looked especially nice, also limiting hard contact and inducing two swinging strikes.

Overall, there isn’t much more you could possibly ask out of Gaddis for today. At one point he retired nine-straight batters, and he was so locked in that he was able to face the top of the order a third time. A dangerous game to play with a pitcher who relies on his changeup for deception and was on his first good game ever, but he earned the trust of his manager to face Tony Kemp, Jace Peterson, and Aguilar in the bottom of the sixth. All three were quick outs.

With just 77 pitches under his belt at that point, you could make the argument that he should have stayed in for the seventh, too. But I can count plenty of times where Tito has done that and it backfired. So I’m willing to side with him on the call to go to Nick Sandlin in the seventh. If the bullpen wasn’t so gassed, I bet Gaddis wouldn’t have even pitched the sixth and I would have been OK with that too.

Sandlin pitched a clean seventh before giving up a lead-off home run in the eighth and getting into trouble, which led to Francona bringing in his (to this point) rookie sensation Tim Herrin. After issuing a couple of two-out walks of his own, Herrin was caught in an 11-pitch at-bat with the veteran Aguilar, who eventually hit one deep into the cheap seats to tie the game at four.

A three-run game with two runners on and two outs probably isn’t the time and place for Herrin with a rested bullpen, but if the goal was to give Trevor Stephan an extra day off, Herrin wasn’t a bad choice. It could have been a great confidence-building moment. Worst case scenario he blows it (which he did), and you might lose a game on April 5. Or, in a similar but much more-fun scenario, Myles Straw leaps into the air to save the go-ahead run and gives your team a chance to win in extra innings (which he did).

This particular robbery came in the very next at-bat after Aguilar’s game-tying homer and could have been devastating. Instead, it was a highlight reel catch that will be played when Straw receives another Gold Glove in the offseason.

Straw also continued to be phenomenal at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a walk today, and providing an extra lead-off man at the bottom of the order. The Guards’ actual lead-off man, Kwan, had himself another two-hit game as well, one of which gave the Guardians an insurance run in the top of the 10th inning. He was also caught on a bone-headed stolen base attempt with José Ramírez at the plate, but we’ll let that slide.

Now go get some sleep tonight and get ready to rock Progressive Field on Friday.