Bats arrive to back steady Bieber, begin road trip with 'W'

April 29th, 2023

BOSTON -- Guardians manager Terry Francona sat in his office about 2 1/2 hours before Friday night’s game against the Red Sox and talked about how his team gets a lift having ace Shane Bieber on the mound.

Then a fast start by an offense that has sputtered early this season and a solid outing by Bieber got the Guardians’ six-game road trip off on a winning note at Fenway Park with a 5-2 victory.

“I think when he pitches, we feel like, ‘Let’s go!’” Francona said. “He sets his own bar so high for himself, he’s probably his own toughest critic, but he competes like crazy. He spins the ball and he’s pretty good. We get excited when he’s pitching.”

Bieber equaled his season high with seven innings, throwing 63 of his 99 pitches for strikes while holding Boston’s bats mostly silent.

“I thought he was really good,” Francona said after the game. “I don’t even really look at the radar. I think if it’s crisp, he’s plenty good. And that’s what it looked like to me.”

The former AL Cy Young Award winner gave up two runs on five hits, striking out four and walking two. Two of the K’s came on nasty curveballs in the dirt against Reese McGuire.

Bieber knows that, at times, batters have been looking for his breaking pitch, so he changed things up a bit with catcher Mike Zunino.

“In the last few outings, teams are keying in on spin,” he said. “We just decided to be a little bit more aggressive and power fastballs in there and make a little adjustment. It turned out a little better for us. There are always more adjustments to be made, and I look forward to continuing to make those. That was one of them that played into the decision for tonight.”

Maybe seeing Bieber’s name penciled on the lineup card jump-started the offense.

The Guardians came into the night 26th in the Majors in runs scored (95), averaging 3.8 per game. That was after putting up just 15 total -- with seven coming in one game -- in a 2-4 homestand. But they jumped ahead, 2-0, in the first inning before Bieber took the mound.

Struggling with a .197 average entering the night, Josh Naylor gave the Guardians a 1-0 edge with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left after José Ramírez singled in a 12-pitch at-bat. Josh Bell made it 2-0 with his RBI double off the Green Monster.

Myles Straw’s RBI single gave Cleveland a 3-0 lead in the second before Zunino’s towering solo drive -- one pitch after he hit a long foul ball down the left-field line -- cleared the Monster in the fourth.

“We did a really good job tonight early,” Francona said. “We hit the ball the other way. That means you’re having a good approach.”

That was all Bieber and the bullpen needed. The righty didn’t mind the wait at all after watching his teammates take the lead.

“It was important,” he said of his quick bottom of the first, in which he threw just 10 pitches. “Obviously, I always want that. All together it was a good start, and the boys jumped on [Boston starter Nick] Pivetta early. That was great for support in the dugout. I just tried to ride that wave of momentum and just tried to go out there and eat up innings, and I was able to go out there and do that.”

Will Brennan gave the Guardians a little cushion, hitting his first homer of the season into the right-field seats in the ninth inning after it got a little testy in the bottom of the eighth, when Boston had runners on the corners with one out. But Trevor Stephan got the next two hitters to escape the jam, and Emmanuel Clase closed it out for his ninth save.

“Of course, that was a dream come true,” Brennan said of his homer that hooked around Pesky’s Pole. “The 12-year-old in me was going absolutely bananas.”

But it was Bieber that really got the road trip off to a great start.

“I like going into places and trying to take things over,” he said. “Sometimes it goes our way.”

And that it did.