Power of youth: Guardians claim sole possession of AL Central

Cleveland takes series over Minnesota in wild comeback victory

June 23rd, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Wednesday night’s game in Minnesota, Guardians manager Terry Francona discussed the enjoyment of watching his young team develop and play well fundamentally while also having plenty of fun.

A young team that has surged to the top of the American League Central gave Francona some temporary anxiety before producing more reasons for the 63-year-old skipper to smile.

Oscar Gonzalez, in just his 24th Major League game, drove in four runs and Cleveland came back twice from multi-run deficits to beat the Twins 11-10 at Target Field.

“I was really proud,” said Francona of the frantic finish, which put the Guardians ahead of the Twins by one game in the AL Central. “I don’t know if enjoyable was quite the word.”

With the win, Cleveland claimed its seventh straight series victory. Having gone 7-1 against the Rockies, Dodgers and Twins, the Guardians also completed a winning three-team, three-city road trip ahead of Thursday afternoon's series finale before returning home.

The Guardians faced both four- and three-run deficits Wednesday before rallying successfully each time.

“I think everybody’s really locked in right now,” said starter Triston McKenzie. “We’re at a place where, even when we’re down in games, when we have opportunities to put runs on the board, everybody gets locked in on those and just keeps us in the game. Mentally, I think that’s been a great positive for us.”

Sam Hentges (1-0) picked up the win with a scoreless eighth and Emmanuel Clase closed out the ninth for his 17th save.

Perhaps youth is serving Cleveland well.

The Guardians weren’t seen by many as a preseason division favorite, in part because of their youth. Cleveland is not only the youngest team in the Majors, in fact, the Guardians are younger than any Triple-A squad.

Francona wants his players to enjoy the process.

“Nobody has a crystal ball,” said Francona pregame. “We’re trying to take stuff from every win or every loss where, like the Dodgers, they show up, they’re just trying to win. They know they’re built for October. We’re still learning how we’re going to get there. Are we good enough? I don’t know. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. [I] like the way they’re playing. It's pretty energizing. For old guys like me, it’s fun. I get a kick out of it.”

Their current run is adding to the enjoyment -- and optimism.

Cleveland, which was 19-24 and in third place in the division on May 29, has won 18 of its last 23 games.

“I think it’s just an ability to give 100%,” shortstop Amed Rosario said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I feel like this is a special team. Obviously, we’re very young. But I think the fact that we’re so young, it’s allowed us to be 100% every day, every game.”

Rosario, who had four hits in the game, started the ninth-inning rally with a single. José Ramírez followed with a single of his own before Josh Naylor doubled to plate Rosario.

Gonzalez, the surprise rookie who was a Minor League free agent in the offseason, followed with a two-run single to tie the game at 10. Owen Miller's sacrifice fly, which plated Gonzalez, put Cleveland up for good, giving it its 15th come-from-behind victory this season.

“I think it’s just, like, really resilient,” said Rosario of his team. “The team, in reality, never gives up and we play with that happiness of playing the game. With that, we’re able to come back late in the games.”

The 24-year-old Gonzalez, who also chipped in a two-run homer in the seventh inning, might be the perfect example of the Guardians’ youth and development.

Despite showing good power numbers in the Minors, Gonzalez became a free agent. He returned to Triple-A Columbus, hit .282 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 41 games, enough to receive his first call to the Majors.

In 24 games with the Guardians, he’s hitting .333 with 13 RBIs.

“I feel like he’s so talented,” Rosario said. “He has all the skills that I feel like he’s not aware yet of what he’s got. I just try to give him advice, so he’s aware of what he’s able to do. He has much to give.”