In clutch spot, Naylor responds like an All-Star

Guardians slugger bounces back from defensive miscues to put club ahead to stay in 10th

July 3rd, 2023

CHICAGO -- From the outside, Sunday seemed like a whirlwind for Guardians first baseman . For him, it was just another day at the ballpark.

Teams learned who their representatives would be for the 2023 MLB All-Star Game in Seattle on Sunday morning. Guardians manager Terry Francona was thrilled to alert José Ramírez and Emmanuel Clase that they’d be returning to the Midsummer Classic. At the same time, he was weary of making a spectacle of it, considering he -- and the rest of Cleveland’s clubhouse -- thought Naylor deserved to share the spotlight. So Francona told the two All-Stars the news individually and talked to Naylor as well.

To Naylor, he never thought he had a chance of being an All-Star. To the rest of the room, it’s clear that he has not only been an All-Star for this lineup, he has also been its MVP over the past two months. He proved that in Sunday night’s 8-6, 10-inning win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Francona’s message to Naylor was simple: You deserve to be an All-Star, too, regardless of who was selected. Francona wasn’t saying that anyone selected to represent his team in Seattle didn’t belong there. He just wanted Naylor to know how much the Guardians appreciated the ridiculously hot tear he has been on since the end of May.

After that conversation, Naylor and the rest of his team had to wait an extra four hours and 40 minutes for first pitch due to yet another day of rain in Chicago. And when they were finally given the green light to start the series finale at 7 p.m. ET, Naylor picked up singles in the fourth and eighth innings, extending his hitting streak to eight games.

But not every All-Star or MVP is perfect. It’s the way they respond to adversity that separates them from the pack. And when the Guardians got into the ninth inning, they ran into multiple obstacles.

Cleveland called on Clase to finish out the game with a four-run lead. It wasn’t a save situation, but Francona said he was trying to balance his bullpen usage, considering the team doesn’t have a day off before the All-Star break. Clase had gone only two days without pitching, so the goal wasn’t to try to force him into an outing.

“We’re up four, and the way we’ve been situated, he probably needed to pitch, and we had some guys who didn’t need to,” Francona explained. “It’s hard.”

With Clase on the mound, the Cubs came fighting back. It started with a leadoff walk, followed by two consecutive passed balls. An RBI single created a spark, and two miscues by Naylor allowed the Cubs to catch fire.

Mike Tauchman hit a chopping ground ball to Naylor’s glove side, and he made a nice diving play to stop it from reaching the grass. But as he tried to get to his feet to toss the ball to Clase, who was hustling over to cover first, he bobbled the ball and couldn’t get the out. On the next play, Naylor fielded a soft ground ball to his glove side and attempted to make a throw to second. But on the transition, again, he bobbled the ball and everyone was safe, loading the bases. It led to a four-run frame that tied the game and forced extra innings.

“I gave it my best effort,” Naylor said. “I tried to make two plays. It didn’t work out. … I just tried to make up for it on the offensive end. I’ve just got to work harder.”

When Naylor was faced with adversity, he rose to the occasion. With one out and runners on second and third in the top of the 10th inning, Naylor served a single up the middle, giving his team a two-run lead.

This is nothing new for Cleveland. Since May 30, Naylor has hit .402, which ranks first in the American League in that span. In June, he owned a .923 OPS. He entered the game with a .311 average and an .834 OPS with runners in scoring position this season.

Naylor didn’t need an All-Star bid to continue to fuel him. Instead, he’s figuring out ways to remain the most consistent at the plate that he has been in his four seasons with the Guardians.

“Very happy for him,” Guardians second baseman Andrés Giménez said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “It’s very special what he did, but we’re not surprised because we know that’s the type of player that he is.”