Giménez hits walk-off HR as 'clutch gene' shines 

July 1st, 2022

CLEVELAND -- For a moment, there was reason to be concerned that the Guardians would slip five or six games back in the American League Central this week. But late-game heroics from and on consecutive days made sure that wasn’t the case.

After Naylor’s wild walk-off celebration on Wednesday, Giménez got the job done on Thursday, solidifying the Guardians’ 5-3 victory over the Twins at Progressive Field with a walk-off two-run homer. It marked the first time the team has had back-to-back walk-off wins since July 8-9, 2021, against the Royals (Franmil Reyes, Bobby Bradley) .

The Guardians had a tough task over the past 10 days, facing the Twins eight times in that short span. As much as it was an opportunity to gain some ground in the division, it also carried the big risk of falling into a deep hole that could be difficult to dig out of. And after entering Tuesday’s doubleheader with a five-game losing streak and carrying just one hit into the eighth inning on Thursday, Cleveland can be relieved that it escaped this stretch just one game behind Minnesota for the top spot in the AL Central.

“Glad to take three out of five from those guys, and I don't think we played that series as good as we could,” center fielder Myles Straw said. “But to sneak three out of there is huge; [to] get that one game up from where we were and just try to come back tomorrow night and play some good games and try to sneak up into first place.”

The Guardians don’t have much time to exhale, as the Yankees -- one of the hottest teams in baseball -- roll into town on Friday for a three-game set. But if there was concern that this lineup was out of gas, Naylor’s walk-off showed that there was some left in the tank. And when Giménez followed suit on Thursday, it solidified that even when the bats have gone quiet, the team’s resiliency can always make an impact.

Even when Cleveland is struggling like it did through the first seven-plus frames in the series finale against Minnesota, the Guardians’ reputation of thriving in do-or-die scenarios late in games has given them the confidence to know that no game is over until the last out is made.

Over the past 10 days, Cleveland has won four games against Minnesota in the eighth inning or later after trailing by at least two runs. According to ESPN Stats and Info, that’s the most such comeback wins one team has had over another in a full season since 1974 (Detroit over Cleveland). And of the Guardians’ 73 games this season, 17 have been won on their final at-bat.

“It’s a hard way to play,” manager Terry Francona said, “but I give our guys credit -- they keep playing, they keep fighting.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” starter Shane Bieber said of his team’s come-from-behind nature. “I don’t think it’s anything that we take for granted. That, first and foremost, is a blessing.”

There’s no secret that it’s much more difficult for the team to be successful when José Ramírez is struggling the way he did vs. the Twins this series. But the Guardians are in the process of learning who else can be a go-to bats in critical situations. At times, Amed Rosario and Naylor have been those guys. But most consistently, Giménez has been the answer.

Giménez is batting .410 this season with five doubles, two triples and six homers, plus his 34 RBIs with runners in scoring position. In the eighth inning or later, he’s hitting .468 with three doubles, one triple, five homers and 19 RBIs.

“He deserves a lot of credit,” Bieber said of Giménez. “Hopefully -- and rightfully so -- he’s getting that. He’s a lot of fun to watch. He obviously made that play late in the game up the middle, that jump throw, that’s going to get overshadowed because he ended up topping that with the game-winning homer. So you can’t really say enough.”

Francona has talked about the “clutch gene” a few times this season, stating that some players (like Ramírez) just understand how to deliver in high-leverage situations. Others believe that the timing of hits can be purely coincidental. But if that “clutch gene” is real, the Guardians have done their best to showcase it late in games this season.

“If there is such a thing, Josh, Giménez come up big every time with guys on second [base],” Straw said. “So they just need to keep doing what they're doing and I think we'll be OK.”