Francona's ejection sparks Guardians: 'He has our back'

September 13th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The Guardians have been fueled by all the doubts that surrounded this team heading into the season. But now their skipper may have given them reason to shift into another gear.

After the Guardians lost their early 4-0 lead in the middle innings, Amed Rosario delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh to secure a 5-4 victory over the Angels on Monday night at Progressive Field. Because the White Sox had the day off, Cleveland moved to three games ahead (a half-game jump) in the AL Central standings.

But even with the hot offense and the stellar bullpen, Guardians manager Terry Francona stole the show.

On the second pitch of Andrés Giménez’s at-bat against Angels hurler Ryan Tepera in the bottom of the seventh, a slider clipped Giménez’s left foot before touching the ground … or so the Guardians were claiming.

Francona threw his hand up to indicate that his team needed a moment to check the replay before deciding whether to challenge the call, and it seems as though everyone saw him except the umpiring crew.

“[Giménez] pointed to us. I think everybody could see it,” Francona said. “[Home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa] said that [Giménez] was already engaged with the pitcher. I said, ‘No, he wasn’t, he stepped out and pointed.’”

“The clock had run out, but I did see him raise his hand earlier,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “I was waiting for the replay, and I wouldn’t have been happy if I were on the other side. Not sure if I’ve seen that one.”

“No one recognized that there was a hold in place,” first-base umpire John Tumpane told a Cleveland pool reporter. “[Francona] was adamant that they were holding and the batter wasn’t ready to go. As adamant as he was, we felt it was best to check with the whole crew. That’s why we reconvened as a four-man crew.”

After that meeting, none of the umpires had anything different to report, which caused Francona’s uproar.

“After that, I just checked on his family a little bit. He checked on mine,” Francona said, with his usual smirk and sarcastic tone. “Truth be told, I don’t know what was going through my mind, and I don’t like that. You get to a point where my intercostal [muscle] was, like, spasming. [Bench coach DeMarlo Hale was] yelling something about stepping on my toe and I’m like, ‘Get away from me.’ I don’t know.”

This was Francona’s third ejection of the season, but none have matched this level of intensity. As the mayhem on the field was winding down, Tepera attempted to throw a warmup pitch and Kulpa immediately shut it down. That caused Nevin to get tossed before play even resumed. But the ejection on the other side of the field didn’t take away from the impact that Francona’s efforts made in his own dugout.

“Sometimes things don't go your way,” Guardians catcher said, “and when you have a leader up top that has your back, those are the situations where you’ve got to go to war, and sometimes it doesn't look good. It's nice to know that he has our back and when things don't go our way, he's going to go stick up for us.”

An incident like this can be a spark plug, even for a team that’s hot, and Cleveland needs each win it can get heading into a critical stretch against the White Sox and Twins over the next week.

The Guardians have fared well against their division, owning a 36-25 record against AL Central teams. But outside the division, they still haven’t eclipsed .500 (38-40). The White Sox take on the Rockies on Tuesday and Wednesday before a makeup game against Cleveland on Thursday. The Guardians are rolling offensively, backed by one of the hottest bullpens in the league. Maybe Francona’s outburst can help keep that momentum rolling.

“Any time anything happens that isn't normal baseball is dictating something, momentum in some way, positive or negative,” Hedges said. “So when you go do that, you’ve got to be careful of that, because it might get the other team motivated, it might hurt your team. But Tito has such a good feel for what he's doing that in those situations, all it does is fire us up and remind us that we have the guy up top that we want leading us.”