Guardians rally, shrink magic number to 3

Cleveland on the doorstep of an AL Central title with win vs. Rangers, White Sox loss

September 24th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- The Guardians are closing in on the American League Central title.

With a come-from-behind 6-3 win over the Rangers on Friday at Globe Life Field -- paired with a White Sox loss to the Tigers -- Cleveland trimmed its magic number to three.

And it was all thanks to a little bit of everything: Cody Morris earned his first Major League win, the bullpen held it down once again and the offense was as aggressive as can be around the basepaths. The biggest factor, though, was a five-run sixth inning.

Down 2-1 through five innings against Rangers pitcher Jon Gray, Cleveland needed a spark. Gray had been dealing all night, and the Guardians didn’t get a hit off the right-hander until the fourth inning, when Amed Rosario hit a leadoff triple.

Long at-bats led to Gray’s night being cut short after the fifth inning, as he neared 90 pitches in his third start off the IL. That’s when everything came into play. As the Rangers’ bullpen took over in the sixth inning, Cleveland’s offense doubled down to score five runs off six hits.

The Rangers are an aggressive team -- they lead the league in stolen bases -- but the Guardians aren’t so far behind. If Cleveland wanted to get things going, the team would have to create just a little more chaos.

“We had a time getting going off of Gray. I thought his slider was really good, and he kind of kept us [from producing],” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “But once we got into our baserunning and we got some traffic -- that’s how we need to play, but you’ve got to get baserunners to do it.”

Base hit by base hit, including a game-tying double from Josh Naylor, the Guardians turned a one-run deficit into a four-run lead. Behind a solid five innings from Morris, it was up to the bullpen to take care of the rest.

“[That was] huge, especially at that point in the ballgame when we’re down a run and you see a four- or five-spot up on the board,” said Sam Hentges, who earned a hold after pitching 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. “Everyone down in the bullpen is just kind of like, ‘All right. It’s our turn to hold this lead now and hopefully get the ball to [Emmanuel] Clase as soon as possible.’”

In September, Cleveland’s bullpen has been credited with 12 saves -- eight of those courtesy of Clase, who recorded his MLB-leading 38th save on Friday by working his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning.

“We’re in a good spot [with] anybody you’re turning to at that point,” Hentges said. “We feel confident no matter who goes out there.”

If Saturday plays out with a Guardians win or a White Sox loss, Cleveland would set up a potential clinching scenario in Sunday’s series finale.

“I think we can feel it,” Hentges said. “That doesn’t really change the way that we approach each day.”