Searching for his first hit as a Cleveland Guardian, Bo Naylor came to the plate in the eighth inning with one out, a runner on first, and a one-run deficit against the Oakland A’s.
Seven pitches later, he put the finishing touch on an impressive at-bat that would prove critical to the Guardians’ final rally in their 7-6 comeback win over the A’s.
Bo reached for a 3-2 fastball off the plate and lined it into center field for his first major league hit, allowing Myles Straw to go from first and third and put runners on the corners. He set the stage for Steven Kwan to turn on a fastball that was high and inside, lining an RBI double into right field. Straw scored the tying run, but right fielder Ramón Laureano’s throw to second ricocheted off Kwan as he was sliding into the base, allowing Bo to score the go-ahead run.
Emmanuel Clase survived an adventurous ninth inning for the save, striking out Ryan Noda and getting Seth Brown to fly out with the tying and go-ahead runs both in scoring position.
The headline coming into the game was the big league debut of starting pitcher Gavin Williams.
Williams is a bit of an outlier in the Guardians’ rotation in that his best pitch is his four-seam fastball. But a fastball will only get you so far against big league hitters, which is why the organization has had Williams working on his curveball and slider in the minor leagues.
The A’s hunting his fastball in the third inning is precisely the sort of scenario the organization had been anticipating. Tony Kemp singled on a first-pitch fastball and then went from first to third when Tyler Wade lined another four-seamer into left field for what was ruled a double (though I would argue it was a single turned into a double by Kemp’s aggressive baserunning and an ill-advised decision by Steven Kwan to try and throw him out at third base).
With runners on second and third and no outs, Williams was able to use his slider to get ahead in the count against Esteury Ruiz but then went back to his fastball, which Ruiz dropped in front of Kwan in left field for an RBI single. Still searching for the first out of the inning, Williams had Ryan Noda down 0-2 to start his at-bat but couldn’t put him away. He hung a curveball that Noda launched into the seats in right field, extending the A’s lead to 4-0.
The good news is that Williams settled in from there. The only four hits he allowed all night came in that third inning, before retiring 10 of the last 12 batters he faced. When all was said and done, Williams pitched 5.2 innings, walking three and striking out four. Not a bad debut.
Gavin Williams, Wicked 85mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 21, 2023
1st MLB K pic.twitter.com/UNWOLdDbTI
His debut could have felt much worse if not for the Guardians’ lineup.
After falling behind 4-0 in the top of the third inning, Cleveland wasted no time clawing their way back into the game. In the bottom of the third, Bo Naylor got the rally started with a leadoff walk. Kwan singled through the right side of the infield, allowing Bo to advance to third. Amed Rosario battled back from an 0-2 count to shoot a single into right field, scoring both Bo and Kwan after right fielder Ramón Laureano struggled mightily to field the ball.
With the A’s lead cut to 4-2 and still no one out in the inning, back-to-back singles from José Ramírez and Josh Naylor loaded the bases. Josh Bell struck out on four pitches, but thankfully Andrés Giménez sent a sac fly to center field to make it a one-run game.
The Guardians finished erasing the four-run deficit in the fifth inning, thanks in large part to a leadoff triple by Ramírez. Josh Naylor followed with an infield single to first base, where the hard-hit ball ate up Ryan Noda and allowed Ramírez to score the tying run.
With the score tied in the seventh inning, Sam Hentges and Trevor Stephan joined forces to surrender the lead to Oakland. After Hentges gave up back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on first and second, Stephan came in and his first pitch turned into an RBI single for Esteury Ruiz, scoring the go-ahead run. The A’s added an insurance run on a two-out RBI single from Seth Brown, ensuring both of Stephan’s inherited runners scored.
Josh Naylor did his part to help close the gap in the bottom of the seventh inning, cutting Oakland’s lead to 6-5 with a solo homer. His brother helped take care of the rest.
Will Brennan was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. He made a spectacular diving catch in right field at the top of the inning, but his left arm got caught underneath him and he came up favoring that arm. Left shoulder soreness was cited as the reason for his exit.