Josh Naylor fires teammates up with intense HR celebration

April 21st, 2024

CLEVELAND -- We’ve seen headbutt his manager out of pure passion for the game, so should any of us be surprised when his idea of a home run celebration includes smashing his own bat against his helmet?

The game was tied at 2 in the fifth inning on Saturday when Naylor decided to launch a Statcast-projected 410-foot, two-run blast into the Guardians’ bullpen. He admired the shot for a few steps as he inched toward first base.

Once it officially cleared the wall, he held his bat with two hands in front of him like a sword. He looked at it for a split second before bashing it against his helmet at full force. One hand fell off the lumber and he used the other to spike it into the grass, as if he was claiming his territory.

Even if that was his motivation, he’s earned that right, as Naylor picked up three RBIs in the Guardians’ 6-3 victory over the A’s at Progressive Field.

“That’s Josh Naylor, man,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “He’s obviously emotional and charismatic. As long as he didn’t concuss himself, I’m all right.”

Emotions run high for Naylor in clutch moments. Whether it’s headbutting Terry Francona, screaming at fans and teammates after hitting homers in Chicago or simply attacking himself with his own bat, Naylor has demonstrated countless times in his handful of years with the Guardians that if he delivers in a big moment, there’s no way to predict what will happen next.

“I think that’s the inner competitor that comes out,” Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan said. “I think it gets to the point that he just blacks out and it’s just pure baseball passion. It’s definitely special. But yeah, that’s Josh Naylor right there.”

The Guardians had just lost their two-run lead when Logan Allen gave up two runs in the top of the fifth. When the team returned to the dugout, Naylor told Allen not to worry, the offense was going to pick him up. Immediately, Naylor kept his word by hitting the go-ahead, two-run blast. What happened next can be seen as uncontrollable emotion. Others in the dugout perceive it as Naylor’s own form of leadership.

“I think it fires us up,” Kwan said. “I think he does that when he feels like things are getting stale on the field and he tries to fire us up. I think, in a roundabout way, that’s his team leadership and how he kind of guides the ship. We couldn’t do this thing without him.”

Naylor picked up one more RBI two innings later, by serving a single into right field after falling behind, 0-2, in the count against A’s reliever Austin Adams.

“A lot of coaches talk about two-strike approaches and if you miss a few swings, spread out and put the ball in play,” Naylor said. “But I think I’m a believer in just getting your A-swing off whether you miss it or you don’t. Always take your best shot.”

There’s no reason to tweak anything about Naylor’s approach right now. He’s leading the team in homers (six), on-base percentage (.400), slugging percentage (.630) and therefore OPS (1.030). He’s second behind José Ramírez in RBIs (17). Naylor isn’t afraid to show his frustration when he walks, but he draws them when he has to and is second to his brother, Bo, on the club with eight free passes. His 26 go-ahead RBIs and 15 game-winning RBIs since the the start of last season are tied for third most in the American League.

Entering the game, he had owned a .308 average and an .822 OPS in high leverage situations this year. Then, he tacked on a game-changing, two-run blast and an RBI single in a late and close situation two frames later. Naylor has now reached base safely in 13 consecutive games, hitting .362 (17-for-47) with five homers and 12 RBIs in that span.

He’s a catalyst for this lineup with his bat. Sometimes, that means firing his team up by hitting himself in the head with it, and sometimes, it simply means delivering the big hit. It seems he’s mastered both crafts.

“He’s a great hitter with power,” Vogt said. “He shortens up and gets that big single for us in that moment, he takes walks when he needs to and then you make a mistake, he can drive you out of the ballpark. That’s what well-rounded hitters do and 'Naylz' is one of them.”