Youthful Guardians unfazed by playoff race, close games

Detroit Free Press

If there is one attribute, one binding quality of the 2022 Guardians to this point in the season, it is perhaps their ability hold a steady course.

Most of the players going through their first playoff push together? They have remained unfazed while the pressure and atmosphere has steadily built. A healthy dose of close games and the need for a comeback win time and time again? That hasn’t been the kind of torpedo for them that can sink other teams.

The Guardians are 32-15 in games decided from the seventh inning on. They’re 25-16 in one-run games. They’re 10-4 in extra innings.

“Yeah I think it’s just a belief that we’re going to get the job done even if the game didn’t start out the way we wanted to,” infielder Owen Miller said. “Obviously the bats can start out slow sometimes, but we always know we’re going put up a fight in the end or get something going. It was really cool to see, just the atmosphere and putting up good at-bats and doing anything we can to get the W.”

Friday night’s 4-3 win served as another example, and one of the biggest. The Guardians mustered only a couple hits and zero runs for the first six innings and the Minnesota Twins built a 3-0 lead.

The Guardians came to life in the seventh to tie it, highlighted by Amed Rosario’s two-run single up the middle. In the eighth, Oscar Gonzalez came through with a two-strike single to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. That led to Ernie Clement entering the game as a pinch runner at second base in place of Josh Naylor, who singled earlier in the inning. Twins reliever Jhoan Duran then threw a ball in the dirt that escaped to the backstop.

It wasn’t quite like Kenny Lofton in the 1995 ALCS or Jason Kipnis in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, but Clement came around from second base to score on the wild pitch, providing the winning run for the Guardians in a key divisional game. Once again, the Guardians scrapped their way back into the game and pulled out a win.

The Chicago White Sox later lost to the Detroit Tigers in extra innings. Several Guardians players huddled around a TV in the clubhouse watching the end of the game. The loss by the White Sox gave the Guardians a four-game lead in the American League Central Division race, and it dropped their magic number to 15 entering Saturday’s doubleheader.

After a season of debuts, the Guardians are playing during the most exciting part of the season.

“I think for everybody, myself included, I don’t think you’re ever too old to — I’m nervous as hell. And I don’t mean that in a bad way,” manager Terry Francona said. “It was exciting. Guys work all winter and all spring and play all year and you have the right to play in a game that’s this exciting. That’s great. Embrace it.”

The playoff atmosphere seemed to arrive at Progressive Field Friday night, at least in a small dose.

“That’s as cool as it gets,” Clement said. “It’s got that playoff atmosphere and the energy the crowd brought, it kept us in it because we were down early. Especially with this team, we’re never out of a game. Everybody on the bench knows that. When you have a crowd like that, it just helps even more.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

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