CHICAGO -- The Guardians have clinched another tiebreaker.
It took a couple of extra innings, but Cleveland set the tone in the opener of the three-game set at Guaranteed Rate Field with a 10-7 win over the White Sox in 11 frames on Tuesday night to move five games ahead of second-place Chicago in the American League Central. More importantly, the victory gave the Guardians the edge in any tiebreaker scenario.
Let’s go over this year’s rule one more time. There will be no Game 163, which means all ties will be decided by the two teams’ head-to-head record. Of 19 matchups between the Guardians and White Sox, Cleveland has now won 10 times, clinching the season-series win. Over the weekend, the Guardians also secured the tiebreaker against the third-place Twins.
“That’s awesome, but anything can happen,” Guardians outfielder Myles Straw said of clinching the tiebreaker. “It’s baseball. I’ve seen crazier things happen. Just trying to take these one day at a time and try to go win tomorrow.”
"We know the situation,” White Sox outfielder AJ Pollock said. “The goal was to win the first game. I've been in situations where the math doesn't seem right. The key is to just win that next game. … It's a fundamentally sound ballclub, but let's see what they feel like when you get a little closer and feel us. That's the goal.”
As breezy as the final score makes it seem like this victory was, the journey to clinch the tiebreaker was quite the opposite. It was a stereotypical win for the Guardians: Sacrifice flies, an RBI infield single and multiple comebacks.
"They're a smooth team,” Pollock said. “They really haven't made huge mistakes the whole year. … I think we fought hard, some mistakes, but it's not like we came out flat. Guys were ready to play today and we just lost."
The Guardians had a chance to take the lead in the top of the seventh, but a controversial out call at the plate as Amed Rosario attempted to score from second on an infield single by Josh Naylor ended Cleveland’s momentum. Rosario appeared to be safe at the plate, but the Guardians had no challenges to ask for a review.
“At the time, that was really tough,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Fortunately, that’s not the way the night ended.”
As Cleveland picked up steam in the 10th, taking a two-run lead, Emmanuel Clase couldn’t keep the White Sox off the board and Chicago knotted the score at 5 to force another frame.
That’s when the offense came alive for Cleveland, sparked by a bat that’s arguably struggled the most for the Guardians all season long. Straw delivered the deciding two-run double that opened the door for a five-run 11th inning for his team.
Straw is showing how different this offense can be when he’s producing at the bottom of the order. He’s been a different hitter in September. Before the month began, Straw’s season average was below the Mendoza Line (.199) with just a .523 OPS. Since then, he hit .344 with a .822 OPS in 18 games entering Tuesday night.
“Oh, it changes [everything],” Francona said. “It gives us speed. It does wonders for us. … When he’s doing that, it’s different for us.”
And if you ask him, this hot stretch -- that now includes a nine-game hit streak -- was worth the wait.
“I’d rather start hitting better now than April and May and slow down,” Straw said over the weekend after a hot series against the Twins. “Starting to feel good. Hopefully I can take that forward and keep progressing toward the end of the season and wherever it takes us.”
Aside from the obvious benefits of having more hits and more baserunners when Straw gets hot, having him as a threat is also helping leadoff hitter Steven Kwan.
“With him always being a steal threat, the pitchers are not focusing on me, which I think is giving me some pitches to hit,” Kwan said. “They’re always trying to pick him off, the catchers are trying to back pick him at second, it’s just to have him on and creating havoc out there."
The Guardians are far from thinking about the postseason. But with another big performance in a high-leverage game, Cleveland is enjoying some much-needed breathing room in the division with just 14 games remaining.
“That’s playoff baseball right there,” Straw said. “Nothing is going to be easy, so try to win those games however you can.”