NEW YORK -- A handful of players in the Guardians’ clubhouse kept referencing the same thing on Monday night: Flip the calendar.
The team got off to a slow start through April. A 13-15 start, to be exact. And with the expectations suddenly sky high for a club that entered the 2022 season with projections of finishing toward the bottom of the AL Central, a losing record after the first full month seemed even more disappointing. That’s why Cleveland put emphasis on getting off to a strong start in May.
April is in the rearview mirror, but the Guardians' offensive woes were overwhelmingly present through the first eight innings of Monday night’s series opener at Yankee Stadium. Entering the ninth, Cleveland had registered just one hit -- an Amed Rosario single in the first inning.
Silence ensued from the offense, as it looked like the club would limp to another ugly loss after a tough trip to Boston over the weekend. Instead, the Guardians found the spark that led them to so many come-from-behind victories last season, rallying to steal a 3-2 victory from the Yankees.
Steven Kwan got things started with a one-out single. Rosario reached on a fielding error by reliever Clay Holmes. José Ramírez singled and Josh Naylor, as he has a handful of times in his career against the Yankees, delivered in the clutch, serving a two-run single to right field to tie the game. After a Josh Bell walk and an Andrés Giménez strikeout, the Guardians were able to push the deciding run across when Mike Zunino drew a bases-loaded free pass.
“When we’re able to do that, that’s sort of what we’re built off of,” Zunino said.
Cleveland certainly had some luck fall in its lap to help make it happen. Domingo Germán, who had been untouchable through eight innings, was pulled after he allowed a single to Kwan in the ninth on his 88th pitch. And when Yankees manager Aaron Boone turned to Holmes to face Rosario, that guaranteed the righty would have to face Naylor with the three-batter minimum rule.
“Yeah, you need some things like this to go right,” Zunino said. “You know, it’s one of those things we said, 'Hey, let’s flip the calendar. Let’s get it off going good.'”
And if it weren't for Naylor, the Guardians wouldn’t have been able to start the month on a positive note. If they want that success to continue, he’ll need to continue to be this player.
In his last full game, Naylor went 3-for-5 with a clutch three-run double against the Red Sox. Then, he delivered the game-tying single against the Yankees. He was able to stay patient at the plate, which he’s had difficulties doing at points this year, especially in big moments. Here’s a look at a breakdown of his stats through April:
Overall: .212 average, .612 OPS
With men on base: .213 average, .529 OPS
With runners in scoring position: .179 average, .426 OPS
“[Hitting coach Chris Valaika] showed him some numbers with runners on base, how his aggressiveness has really spiked and he needs to try to dial it in,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He doesn’t need to do more. He just needs to be the hitter he is. That’s good enough.”
Following that advice proved beneficial on Monday.
“You’re either going to have a good start or a bad start,” Naylor said. “It evens out during the whole year. … I’d rather struggle in the beginning and have a great middle and end than have a hot beginning, an average middle and a bad end.”
Slow starts have long since been a part of Cleveland’s story. Last year, the club went 15-14 in its first 29 games. This year, it’s 14-15. And a big part of the Guardians’ identity will once again be built around comebacks, considering they already have six plate appearances to give them the lead in the ninth inning or later, which leads the Majors.
Now, it’s up to the Guardians to build upon this momentum and prove that April was just another slow start.
“I think we made it pretty clear that games in April matter just as much as games any other time,” Guardians starter Cal Quantrill said. “But we battled these last three series. We’ve been grinding. I think it was important for us to win this game the way we did today. Hopefully, we can get on a little roll here and start taking a couple [of] series."