Cleveland battles to belt another walk-off HR

Bradley's jack in 9th follows bizarre DP, Tito's ejection and McKenzie's super start

July 10th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- So much of the Indians’ season thus far has been about their fight. They had to fight to prove they could be more than a rebuilding team heading into the season. They’ve had to fight to get through injuries to their key starters and hitters. And on Friday night, that fight didn’t stop.

The Tribe essentially experienced a boxing match, watching everyone from starter to skipper Terry Francona put up a fight to stay in the game. And delivered the final punch by launching his first career walk-off homer for a 2-1 victory over the Royals at Progressive Field.

“It’s unreal,” Bradley said. “Guys are excited. Everybody is pumped up and beating you up a little bit and throwing water everywhere. It’s awesome.”

After Franmil Reyes’ walk-off three-run homer in the series opener on Thursday, Cleveland has secured consecutive walk-off homers for the first time since Sept. 22-23, 2020. But the journey to accomplish the feat wasn’t simple.

Round 1

McKenzie couldn’t have been more efficient -- a word that has not been used to describe any of his previous outings this year. Entering the night, his 8.3 walks per nine innings was the worst in the Majors (minimum of 40 innings pitched). But this time, he issued just one free pass with nine strikeouts and just one hit in a career-high seven frames.

"That was so exciting,” Francona said. “In fact, when he came out of the game, I might’ve hurt him. I hit him so hard. That was – the best word I can use is encouraging.”

McKenzie was sent to Triple-A Columbus to work on his command. He came up for one quick start on June 12, but after walking four of the six batters he faced, he was sent back down to continue working until his strike-throwing ability improved. When the reports started to reflect that progression, he got the callup to start on Friday.

“Attacking the zone with all my pitches -- I've been able to come back to that,” McKenzie said. “I feel like my biggest downfall in all my starts has been just not being in the zone and not having competitive strikes, and I felt like today I did the best with that.”

Round 2

After Emmanuel Clase gave up a solo homer in the eighth to Jorge Soler, knotting the score at 1, the Indians had to fight their way back into the lead. The momentum seemed to be shifting back in their favor when they had two on and none out in the eighth, but a strange double play that started with Daniel Johnson getting in a rundown between third and home halted any potential rally.

“That was a huge momentum shift,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “[We] walked into the dugout there thinking this was going to be our game.”

When both Johnson and Cesar Hernandez ended the play by sliding into third, Johnson was tagged out as he came off the base and Hernandez was also tagged, but the umpiring crew ruled Hernandez out, as well. When Francona didn’t agree, he made sure to make his opinions clear and was ejected for the first time this season. He was previously thrown out of a game on May 25, 2019, against Tampa Bay.

“We just got fired up after Tito got thrown out after that crazy play that happened,” Bradley said. “With him fighting like that for us, we can’t give up.”

Round 3

The Indians were the ones to walk away with a knockout. After McKenzie’s stellar outing and Francona’s energy radiating throughout the dugout, the team was positive something was about to happen in the bottom of the ninth.

“The energy in the dugout was, 'We're going to win this game regardless of what happened in that eighth inning,'” McKenzie said. “I felt like when we got to the bottom of the ninth, everybody was positive.”

Bradley wasted no time, sending the fourth pitch of the frame a Statcast-projected 394 feet over the right-center-field wall to not only hand the Indians their second straight win, but also secure his first ever (at any level) walk-off homer. He tried his best to digest the excitement that happened, but he struggled to find the words to describe what he was feeling. All he knew was that this was the exact answer his team needed after ending a nine-game losing streak on Thursday.

“Things weren’t going our way, but we never gave up,” Bradley said. “We were always fighting no matter what the score was and I think that’s where we’re at now, just staying in that mindset that we’ve got to fight.”