Guardians' rally leaves Francona speechless (in a way)

Manager had a pep talk ready, but a six-run eighth inning rendered it moot

May 14th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- Guardians manager Terry Francona was starting to plan what he’d say to the team after the game.

Francona is rarely one to address his squad. He never wants to cause irrational panic in the clubhouse by getting the group together to address woes. But at times when he thinks it would be helpful, he strategically plans a few words to try to right the ship.

Saturday night was going to be that night -- until a six-run inning in the eighth brought momentum back in Cleveland’s favor, lifting it to an 8-6 victory over the Angels at Progressive Field.

The Guardians ran into a double play in the first inning that looked like it would be a sacrifice fly. But after a flyout to right field, was thrown out trying to advance to third base, making the third out before , who was on third, stepped on the plate to score.

José Ramírez was later picked off of second base. and threw the ball around in the seventh. Rosario dropped a popup in the eighth.

It was the perfect night for a pick-me-up speech from Francona … until it wasn’t.

“You spend like four innings thinking, ‘I need to talk to these guys,’” Francona said, “and then about 10 minutes later you’re like, ‘Hey, way to go.’”

The Guardians’ dugout felt like 2022 in the eighth inning. Kwan and Rosario singled. Ramírez singled in a run. Josh Bell singled in another run. And then -- for the second consecutive night -- launched the go-ahead blast. This one led to Cleveland’s victory.

This was the type of win the Guardians had been waiting for.

“I feel we needed this,” Guardians second baseman Andrés Giménez, who followed Naylor’s homer with a long ball of his own, said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I felt like we needed this type of inning to remember that type of chemistry that we have and what we’re able to do on the field.”

Late-game comebacks and a never-say-die attitude is what fueled the Guardians in 2022. No matter how big of a deficit they faced, the Guardians refused to believe they were ever out of a game. But that energy didn’t translate into the start of the ‘23 season. Cleveland entered the night owning a streak of 11 consecutive games of scoring four runs or fewer. It had also dropped eight of its previous 12 contests. The offense has ranked at the bottom of nearly every offensive category, especially when it came to power.

There was nothing more this roster needed than a reminder that it’s essentially the same group of guys (aside from a few new faces) who put together such an incredible season last year. Despite what was thrown at them on Saturday evening, they received that gentle nudge.

“Somehow we had different games this year coming from behind,” Giménez said, “but we didn’t have that feeling like we did today.”

The Guardians were on the heels of an 11-hit performance on Friday night that ended in a blown save by . But the team seemed adamant that the swings it took indicated a shift in momentum was coming.

With one out in the eighth inning on Saturday, it was easy to doubt that this would be the time the bats would catch fire. Statcast had Cleveland at just a 2% chance of coming out victorious. Instead, the club put up its first inning of at least six runs this season (the first since Oct. 2, 2022). That sent a much-needed jolt of energy through the dugout after such a slow start to the season.

“I think that’s just what baseball is,” Naylor said. “It’s a grind for 162 [games], and I think we’d rather start kind of rough but have a great middle and end than have an incredible start, OK middle and bad end. … I think those first few weeks, it just wasn’t our month. Every team will go through that.”

Every team does go through rough stretches, and if that’s what April was for Cleveland, that will be simply a bump in the road in this long marathon. But the club now needs to prove it can rediscover the success it had all last year.

“The important part is we were able to go through it,” Giménez said. “Hopefully, tomorrow we can come back and keep playing with the same energy we did today.”