CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Josh Naylor addressed the media Tuesday night on Zoom after going 4-for-4 against Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series. When asked how he was able to have such a strong night at the plate, he simply replied: “These are do-or-die games and it's win or go home and I don't really want to go home yet.”
In Game 2 of the Wild Card Series on Wednesday at Progressive Field, Naylor continued to back his statement by picking up a two-run double to give the Indians a three-run lead in the first inning in what would become a 10-9 Yankees victory, eliminating Cleveland from the postseason.
The 23-year-old became the first player in MLB history to record a hit in each of his first five postseason plate appearances. In Game 1, Naylor was just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, as he recorded a single, two doubles and a home run.
“Yeah, I mean I just tried to have good at-bats,” Naylor said. “They threw some tough pitchers, so that’s all you can really do against those guys. You’re only going to get a certain amount of pitches to hit from them because they’re just that good at their job.”
The Indians had taken a one-run lead over the Yankees in the first before experiencing a 33-minute rain delay (the second delay of the night after a 43-minute pushback of the first pitch). But once the tarp was pulled, Naylor maintained his sparkling 1.000 batting average through his fifth postseason plate appearance by plating two runs on an RBI double to center.
The Indians acquired Naylor at the Trade Deadline as part of a return for starter Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen from the Padres. He hit just .230 with a .556 OPS in 22 regular-season games after arriving in Cleveland, but showed signs of heating up over the Tribe’s final 10 contests before the playoffs. In that span, he batted .333 with an .824 OPS and three doubles.
After fly outs in the third and fifth, Naylor was due up in the seventh with two outs and two runners on base. But before he could walk up to the plate to face lefty Zack Britton, acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. decided to pinch-hit Jordan Luplow to force the Yankees to put Jonathan Loaisigaon the mound. A decision that left many momentarily scratching their heads ended up paying off for the Indians, as Luplow delivered the game-tying double.
"My thought process? The OPS they had against the lefty,” Alomar said. “The split numbers were favorable right there. The thought process was that if I bring Luplow, they're going to bring Loaisiga. The tradeoff was a benefit for Luplow to hit against Loaisigaversus Naylor facing Britton. We were better with a righty facing a righty than a lefty facing a lefty.”
“Matchups happen and I trust Lup, we all trust Lup and he was put in that situation and he does what he does and he comes in clutch for us,” Naylor said. “I’m so happy and proud of him. I was going crazy when it happened. I was so happy he got that big hit, drove in a few, it was just a turning point in the game and that’s all him.”
Despite the numerous comebacks by the offense, the Tribe couldn’t hold off the Yankees’ bats, as closer Brad Hand blew the save in the ninth, bringing the Indians’ season to a close.
“We kept battling, kept coming back, kept having good [at-bats],” Naylor said. “Just wasn’t our night tonight.”