CLEVELAND -- Oscar Gonzalez knew he was going to win Saturday’s game, even when it seemed impossible.
As Baseball Savant was calculating that Cleveland had a 4% chance of overcoming a two-run deficit with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Guardians’ dugout determined that it had a 100% chance of winning as long as Myles Straw reached base.
Cleveland hadn’t been able to deliver the timely hit all night, stranding nine runners on base. But the Guardians were right. A single from Straw on a miscue in left field preceded a bloop single from Steven Kwan. Amed Rosario followed with an RBI single through the left side of the infield before another soft single set up Gonzalez to be the hero with a walk-off, two-run single up the middle to give the Guardians a 6-5 victory over the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS at Progressive Field.
“I was sitting next to Oscar [in the dugout],” Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “We talked about if Straw gets a base, we'll get this game turned around. … I was telling him we're going to load all the bases and then we're going to win the game.
“He said, ‘No, no. I'm going to finish the game. I'm going to win the game.’”
Everything played out to Gonzalez’s plan. The bases were loaded and Josh Naylor struck out for the second out of the inning, bringing Gonzalez to the plate. He started his walk to the batter’s box, as the theme song from SpongeBob SquarePants once again blared throughout Progressive Field. Instantly, Gonzalez feels calm.
“I go [up to the plate] singing the song because I have a big body, but deep inside I feel like a kid,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has owned these moments all postseason. He launched the walk-off homer in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against Tampa Bay last weekend to send his team to the ALDS. On Friday night, he served the go-ahead RBI single into right field in the top of the 10th inning to help give Cleveland its first win over New York. Then, on Saturday, he did it again, smacking a 1-2 slider off righty Clarke Schmidt up the middle to score two runs to secure the win.
Only six players in postseason history have had three go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later: Gonzalez, Pete Rose, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Carlos Correa and Cody Bellinger. Only Gonzalez and Ortiz had all three come in a single postseason.
“He's like right-handed Big Papi right now, he just set some record I heard for game-winning hits in the playoffs,” Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “You can't make that up. … That's SpongeBob, he's our guy.”
As the second run crossed the plate, the Guardians’ dugout emptied and players chased Gonzalez into shallow right field in celebration. It’s a feeling this club has gotten used to. During the regular season, the Guardians had the most come-from-behind wins in the Majors with 29. Now that the team is in the playoffs, it’s able to display its brand of baseball on a national stage.
It’s not an approach that’s often taken in today’s game. Home runs are usually the driving force behind a team’s success in the postseason, considering clubs this year are 11-5 when outhomering an opponent. Yet, Cleveland rarely relies on the long ball and didn’t at all in Game 3.
“We obviously have a different style of baseball,” Kwan said. “To see that succeed and see that prevail I think is really rewarding for the game. It shows we're not going to change our game style for anybody.”
The Yankees had been 167-0 in postseason history when leading by multiple runs entering the ninth inning, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Guardians were 0-41 in those situations. Just when they were on the brink of facing an elimination game on Sunday, they flipped the script.
Coming into 2022, teams holding a 2-1 lead in any best-of-five postseason series had gone on to win the series 67 of 93 times (72%). In the Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams up 2-1 and playing Game 4 in their home ballparks had advanced 21 of 26 times (81%). In 15 of those instances, the series ended in Game 4.
“You can't just show up overnight and expect to do the things that we've done,” Hedges said. “When we have leadership like we do from top to bottom on this team, and guys that believe in each other and love each other and care about each other, you really show you can do anything you want to.”