McKenzie sunk by two solo shots as winning streak ends

August 13th, 2022

TORONTO -- The win streak came to an end, but neither the Guardians nor starter  have much reason to lose sleep over it.

Aided by McKenzie’s strong 6 2/3 innings of work, Cleveland kept it close until the end, dropping Saturday’s matchup 2-1 to the Blue Jays to snap a streak of six consecutive victories.

Two solo home runs allowed by McKenzie defined the entire game. As good as the right-hander has been in the second half of the season, this latest start served as an early taste of what the AL Central pennant race will bring for the Guardians in the weeks ahead.

“It definitely makes us a little more competitive when it comes to what we call and how big the little things can be, like a solo home run or even a double,” McKenzie said about pitching in meaningful contests at this point of the season. “When you’re in these close games, it’s a little tighter, but I don’t think it changes the game plan.”

McKenzie has good reason to stick to his game plan. The 25-year-old has posted six or more strikeouts in 13 of his 22 starts this season, and was coming off an eight-inning, eight-strikeout gem against the Astros in his last start.

Against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, though, McKenzie looked human. He limited Toronto to five hits and two walks with two earned runs on 101 pitches, but managed just three punchouts against a lineup that doesn’t strike out much. He also surrendered 10 hard-hit balls, including the two solo shots by Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernández -- both of which came on two-strike fastballs that just missed their intended location.

“I made some mistakes, but I felt like I competed,” said McKenzie. “I had some long innings.”

He also had plenty of help from his defense.

The Guardians’ outfield put in work on Saturday, as the Blue Jays peppered line drives and loud fly balls their way throughout the game. But the best defensive play came from second baseman Andrés Giménez.

McKenzie exited with two outs in the seventh, and faced a potential third earned run on his stat sheet after yielding a double to Raimel Tapia. When Santiago Espinal slapped a single to right off Enyel De Los Santos, Giménez chased after it and kept the play alive, throwing a cannonball to home plate as Tapia rounded third. Luke Maile applied the tag for the last out of the inning to keep the Guardians within a run.

“That was a potentially game-saving play,” said manager Terry Francona. “It gave us a chance.”

But as solid as their pitching and defense were, the Guardians’ offense failed to come alive after an eight-run win on Friday. The team could not capitalize on the early struggles of Blue Jays starter Mitch White, who issues two walks in the first inning, but ended up with just one earned run on the day -- a Giménez RBI single. Cleveland left nine men on base and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

So suffice it to say, no one is pointing their finger at McKenzie after the streak-snapping loss.

“He kept a really strong lineup at bay,” said Francona. “If you get pretty much close to seven innings with two runs, we’ll take that.”

That’s especially important considering the Guardians will enter a stretch of six games against AL Central opponents on Monday, including a doubleheader to open the next series against the Tigers.

“I wish we could win every time I go out there and pitch,” said McKenzie. “But I'm just trying to keep that momentum and carry that out until the end of the season.”

The magnifying glass will follow Cleveland from now until October. Currently atop the AL Central by one game, the Guardians are still vying to find some separation from the Twins and keep themselves “relevant,” in the words of Francona, in the postseason race.

As the little things turn big and every detail makes a difference, the Guardians aren’t keen on overthinking or second-guessing. Instead, they’re drawing motivation from the moment.

“I think it’s more a testament to the team,” said McKenzie. “You see it in our bats, even late in the game … the guys are still fighting. So, we’re out there doing our job, too."