Shane Bieber returned to the mound for the Guardians on Friday, facing the Baltimore Orioles in what may very well have been his last start in a Cleveland uniform. Bieber showed flashes of the pitcher that has been the anchor of this Cleveland staff since 2019 but the rust was evident as the right-hander allowed 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits while striking out 5 and allowing 1 walk.
Unfortunately, the most consequential pitch of the night from Bieber was a curveball that got away from him and ricocheted off the thumb of catcher Bo Naylor. Naylor would exit the game with what was reported as a right thumb contusion.
There has been no word yet on the severity of the injury, or whether Naylor will miss any time, but given that the Guardians were officially eliminated from playoff contention last night one would think that Tito and the front office will approach this situation with an abundance of caution. Naylor has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise pedestrian Guardians offense this month. Since September 1 Naylor is slashing .318/.475/.546 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in 15 games. The 23-year-old Naylor has solidified himself as the catcher of the future with his play in the last month and figures to be a key piece in this young Guardians core as we look to 2024.
The Guardians offense came alive early last night, torching Baltimore starter Dean Kremer for 6 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits. Every starter (except Naylor who left after one at-bat) recorded a hit in an offensive outburst that would lead to 9 runs on the night.
But, as we’ve learned this season, nothing comes easy for this Guardians team. The Guardians entered the top of the 7th inning leading 6-5 when reliever Enyel De Los Santos walked Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson, surrendered a single to catcher Adley Rutschman, and ultimately gave up an RBI single to right fielder Anthony Santander which tied the game 6-6.
The Guardians would regain the lead in the bottom of the 7th inning on a Will Brennan base-hit to right field for his 41st RBI on the year.
The 8th inning went by without incident, except for this incredible double play started by Guardians second baseman Andrés Gimenez.
The Guardians handed a one run lead to closer Emmanuel Clase for the 9th inning but, as has been the case so many times this season, Clase surrendered the lead after hitting Santander with a pitch and giving up a single to first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and a double to outfielder Aaron Hicks (both on weak ground balls). The blown save was the 12th on the year in what has been an incredibly frustrating season for the Guardians closer.
All would be made right as the Guardians got the bats out in the 9th inning. Facing Baltimore closer Yennier Canó Gimenez led off with a line drive double to right field. Shortstop Gabriel Arias would ground out, advancing Gimenez to third base. Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde then elected to walk the left handed hitting Will Brennan, opting to set up a potential double play and bring up a right handed hitter in catcher David Fry to face Canó. This decision would prove costly as Fry roped a line drive double off the wall in left-center scoring both runners as the Guardians walked it off to secure their 74th win on the season.
Unfortunately for the Guardians, the Minnesota Twins would beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-6, clinching the pedestrian AL Central and officially eliminating the Guardians from postseason play, a reality that most fans have long since accepted.
There are still 7 games remaining in the season, and plenty of opportunities to build momentum for next year, and give young players opportunities to gain experience and build positive momentum going into the offseason. The series against the Orioles continues as Cal Quantrill (RHP, 3-6, 5.26) faces John Means (LHP, 0-1, 3.60) tonight at 6:10 eastern.