Not gonna lie, I had a whole recap written when it looked like the Guardians were going to lay down and die after a questionable bullpen decision lost them the lead in the seventh. But spoiler alert, they did not. So please excuse this hastily written, adrenaline-fueled recap instead as we just watched whatever the hell happened in the top of the ninth inning.
Bringing in Anthony Castro to pitch in the seventh instead of, I don’t know, literally, anybody was still the wrong choice — don’t get me wrong — but it ended up not mattering as the 2022 Cleveland Guardians DO. NOT. QUIT.
Maybe by the time I finish this recap we’ll have an explanation of why Terry Francona went to Castro, his least experienced and arguably least effective reliever, in a key moment tonight.
Having closely watched a Terry Francona-led team for a decade, I assume the answer will have something to do with the innings his best relievers threw yesterday, along with the marathon of games they have coming up. And if that is the reason — to preserve the bullpen for the long haul — I guess we just have to take his word for it.
Bringing in Castro in the bottom of the seventh and leaving him in through four painful runs wasn’t Tito’s only blunder, either. Bringing Triston McKenzie out to start the fifth was equally weird, and resulted in a lead-off home run to Max Kepler.
McKenzie didn’t have his best tonight — nothing mechanical, nothing velocity-related. He just couldn’t locate anything as he relied heavily on his fastball (55% of his pitches), but saw it put into play nine times. According to Baseball Savant’s tracking, five of the six balls that were put into play resulting in runs came off of his fastball tonight with the lone exception being a cement mixer of a slider that Carlos Correa hit back at 106.3 miles per hour in the first inning — one of his two home runs on the night.
The Guardians were down as much as 5-1 by the fourth inning but didn’t show any quit until seemingly in that fateful bottom-of-the-seventh. They’re a young bunch — the youngest, they will happily remind you — that refuse to lose. Austin Hedges started the first comeback attempt in the fifth with a lead-off home run, followed by hits from Myles Straw, Steven Kwan, and Amed Rosario.
They then entered the top of the seventh down 6-4, only to come storming back with an Amed Rosario lead-off home run and a two-run Oscar Gonzalez bomb a few batters later — his second of the season. That gave them a 6-7 lead that was ultimately melted to a 10-7 deficit with a three-run home run from Gio Urshela in the seventh, among other things. It was one of the worst — but not the worst — thing that Urshela has done to Cleveland baseball in the last six years.
Once Castro mercifully ended the inning, the Guardians offense then came out flat, struck out three times in the eighth, and looked dead in the water.
But then finally, that glorious ninth inning. It started with four-straight hits from Amed Rosario, Jose Ramirez, Josh Naylor, and Oscar Gonzalez, a questionable bunt by Andres Gimenez, and a slam-dunk sacrifice fly by Owen Miller to bring in the go-ahead run. Emmanuel Clase came in and dominated the bottom half of the frame, pumping 100 mph cutters and shutting things down.
The Guardians are the sole leaders in the AL Central with plenty of chances to build the lead coming up in the next few days. If anything, tonight taught us one important thing: Never turn off the Guards, and never start your recaps too early.