With a Bloop Instead of a Blast, Guardians’ Oscar Gonzalez Plays the Hero Again

Oscar Gonzalez
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When the season started, 24-year-old Oscar Gonzalez used to be at Triple-A Columbus, looking forward to a shot at the majors. Six months later, he’s Cleveland’s Mr. Clutch, the guy who has gathered game-winning hits in additional innings in two of the Guardians’ 3 postseason wins. Last Saturday, his walk-off house run in the fifteenth inning in opposition to the Rays ended a four-hour, 57-minute epic and clinched the Wild Card Series for the Guardians. On Friday afternoon, he persisted his postseason heroics via using in the go-ahead run in the tenth inning in opposition to the Yankees by way of a bloop unmarried, serving to the Guardians to a 4–2 victory in Game 2 that evened the Division Series at one apiece.

The Dominican-born Gonzalez, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger with massive energy and arm energy, hit 31 homers closing yr between Double-A and Triple-A however used to be particularly absent from Eric Longenhagen’s Top 48 Guardians Prospects checklist because of an way that he described to me as “literally the most aggressive swinger in the minors.” He debuted with the Guardians on May 26 and hit a powerful .296/.327/.461 (122 wRC+) with 11 homers in 382 plate appearances, however his 3.9% stroll charge and 48.4% chase charge — the latter mark the majors’ third-highest amongst gamers with no less than 300 PA — jibed with Eric’s reservations.

“He has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, like he did the other day. But he also has the awareness to shorten up enough,” mentioned supervisor Terry Francona later on, referring first to Gonzalez’s series-winning force after which to the 1–2 depend during which he discovered himself in opposition to Jameson Taillon. “Getting the bat on the ball gives you a chance. And he’s young and he’s still learning.”

Gonzalez’s hit used to be simply 58.9 mph off the bat and introduced at a 39-degree attitude into brief proper box, the place the converging Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge had no likelihood. “[Taillon] threw the ball right by Gonzie his first two pitches and then he hit it. Didn’t hit it hard but he hit it. He got rewarded for it,” Francona mentioned.

The Yankees received Game 1 on Tuesday at the back of the robust paintings of Gerrit Cole and a lights-out bullpen. But the maddening collection of an off day on a stunning Wednesday adopted via a rain-driven postponement on Thursday night time ended in Game 2 no longer going down till Friday. With a 1:07 pm first pitch, it used to be the earliest postseason get started in the Bronx since October 5, 2006, when a 23-year-old rookie named Justin Verlander and 3 Tigers relievers teamed up for a 4–3 win in Game 2 of that yr’s Division Series. For the first 9 innings of this contest, wobbly beginning pitching, lengthy balls, encroaching shadows, and dominant aid have been the order of the day. And after a stalemate of just about 4 hours, the well-placed bloopers of José Ramírez and Gonzalez, adopted via a a lot deeper force via Josh Naylor — all at the expense of Taillon, making the first aid look of his six-year main league occupation — lifted the Guardians.

It used to be the handiest time all afternoon that 3 immediately hitters reached base for both group, and the first time since the first inning that both sides gathered back-to-back hits.

“I think it’s one of those days for both sides where you start getting into the shadows, it gets to be a tough, tough day to hit,” Yankees supervisor Aaron Boone mentioned later on.

The matchup presented the risk attainable pitchers’ duel between Shane Bieber and Nestor Cortes, each of whom completed the common season with ERAs below 3.00. Neither starter had his best possible stuff on Friday, however each have been resilient, bending the place they may have damaged. Bieber served up a two-run homer in the first inning to Giancarlo Stanton, the slugger’s 9th in his closing 12 postseason video games relationship again to the 2019 ALCS in opposition to the Astros. Five of the first 12 Yankees reached base in opposition to Bieber; in the backside of the 1/3, with runners on first and 2nd base, one out, and Stanton at bat once more, Francona spoke back to the urgency of the scenario via getting Eli Morgan throwing in the bullpen. The Yankees may no longer land the knockout blow, on the other hand, as Bieber recovered to strike out Stanton swinging at a slider on the outdoor nook, then retired Josh Donaldson on a loss of life quail to left fielder Steven Kwan.

That started a stretch of 10 out of 12 hitters set down via Bieber, interrupted via walks to Rizzo in the 5th and Donaldson in the 6th. Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s bloop unmarried into proper box on Bieber’s a hundred and first pitch, with two outs and Donaldson aboard, induced Francona to visit his bullpen in prefer of Trevor Stephan (extra on whom in a while). The 2020 AL Cy Young winner ended his afternoon with 20 swings and misses and 7 strikeouts, strolling 3 and permitting 5 hits. Of the whiffs, 11 got here by way of his cutter and 8 by way of his slider, and he completed with a 42% CSW%.

Via MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, Bieber become simply the 1/3 pitcher to strike out Judge thrice this yr, after Frankie Montas on June 28 and Max Scherzer on July 27. Judge went 0-for-5 with 4 strikeouts for the day, his first 4-Okay sport since June 23, 2021 in opposition to the Royals. So some distance on this collection, he’s 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts, a stroll and a stolen base.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but if I did, I’m not sure I’d really want to share it,” mentioned Francona when requested about the Guardians’ plans to pitch to Judge, who set an AL report with 62 homers this yr and lead the league with a 207 wRC+, 11.4 WAR, and 131 RBI. “Until you get through a series successfully, I don’t think anybody is going to stand up here and pound our chest. He’s too dangerous.”

As for Cortes, he yielded back-to-back hits to begin the sport, first a bunt unmarried via Kwan after which a grounder via the proper aspect via Amed Rosario. After getting Ramírez to fly out, he lucked into a double play when Rizzo speared Gonzalez’s line force and stuck Rosario too some distance off first base. Cortes then retired 8 out of the subsequent 9 batters, operating round a leadoff stroll of Austin Hedges in the 1/3, ahead of discovering bother. With two outs in the fourth, Naylor beat out a grounder to 2nd base, took 2nd when Owen Miller walked, and scored on an Andrés Giménez unmarried to proper box, with Miller taking 1/3 and Giménez 2nd after Judge airmailed his throw house.

Cortes then walked Hedges once more to load the bases. Number 9 hitter Myles Straw hit a comebacker that the lefty, who’s indexed at 5-foot-11, leaped to spear — and in doing so, fell on his butt. He recovered to make a one-hop throw in time to nip the fleet-footed middle fielder, whose dash velocity positioned in the 94th percentile.

The reprieve proved short-lived. With one out in the 5th, Rosario hooked up on a 91-mph inside of fastball, hitting a 106.5-mph rocket 416 toes to middle box for a game-tying homer. One out later, Gonzalez singled to proper box, drawing a mound discuss with from pitching trainer Matt Blake as the bullpen stirred. Cortes escaped via getting Naylor to fly out, however it used to be transparent that his day used to be completed. He completed with six hits and 3 walks allowed to head with 3 strikeouts and 10 swings and misses, despite the fact that his 26% CSW% used to be a couple issues underneath his mark for the season.

The bullpen parade started in the 6th. With two on and two outs, Francona referred to as upon Stephan (“The Best Reliever You’ve Never Heard of,” as Ben Clemens billed him in August), and Boone countered via tabbing Matt Carpenter to pinch-hit for Jose Trevino. Carpenter batted a jaw-dropping .305/.412/.727 with 15 homers in 154 PA ahead of fracturing his left foot with a foul ball on August 8; he didn’t play once more in the common season however rehabbed his strategy to a Division Series roster spot. The crowd of 47,535 greeted him with a status ovation, however he struck out swinging at a splitter underneath the zone. Indeed, Stephan — a 2020 Rule 5 choose from the Yankees, by the way — struck out all 4 batters he confronted, 3 of them with the splitter, as despite the fact that paying tribute to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who popularized the pitch in the Nineteen Eighties and kicked the bucket on Friday at the age of 69. On the season, batters hit .153, slugged .224, and whiffed on 54% of their swings in opposition to Stephan’s break up.

In the 8th, Stephan yielded to James Karinchak, who struck out two however walked the bases loaded. With two outs, Francona referred to as upon Emmanuel Clase, he of the triple-digit cutter (in opposition to which batters hit .189 and slugged .245 this yr) and low-90s slider (in opposition to which batters hit .119 and slugged .174 whilst whiffing on 42.7% of their swings); Cleveland’s nearer were given Kyle Higashioka to hit a cushy liner to 3rd base to flee the jam.

During the common season, the 24-year-old Clase by no means pitched greater than an inning. But he were given 4 outs in the Wild Card Series opener, and Francona relied upon him the leisure of the manner on Friday as effectively. In the 9th, he labored round a unmarried via Rizzo, then threw the tenth as effectively, permitting handiest a one-out stroll to Donaldson.

In all, Cleveland’s bullpen blended for 4.1 scoreless innings, permitting only one hit, strolling 4 and placing out 8 of 18 batters confronted. The first 4 Yankees relievers have been in a similar way stingy: Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta, and Clay Holmes blended for 4 hitless innings, strolling two and placing out 5. Holmes did have to place out a fireplace in the 9th after issuing a two-out stroll to Straw; the speedster made all of it the strategy to 1/3 base after an error via Rizzo on a Kwan grounder despatched the ball dribbling into proper box, however Holmes retired Rosario on a grounder for the 1/3 out.

The hitless streak resulted in the tenth when Boone referred to as upon Taillon, who made 32 begins this yr whilst pitching to a 3.91 ERA and three.94 FIP, however who had by no means made a aid look. Boone had him throwing at the back of Holmes in the 9th inning of Game 1, which, he mentioned, helped him higher perceive the regimen had to get able, however in that one his services and products weren’t required. This time they have been, and whilst the touch he generated used to be cushy, it used to be bother. Ramírez hit a 55-degree, 76.3-mph bloop 200 toes to left box, the place Oswaldo Cabrera may handiest lure the ball. Donaldson picked it up and fired it previous 2nd base and into proper box as Ramírez took 1/3. Gonzalez adopted along with his bloop, using in the go-ahead run, and Naylor smoked a 108.5 mph force over the head of Harrison Bader in middle box to convey him house. That, for all intents and functions, used to be the ballgame.

With the rescheduling of Thursday’s rainout wiping out the go back and forth day, the intensity of each bullpens will briefly be examined on Saturday. The Yankees, who will get started Luis Severino in Game 3, might line up higher, as none of the relievers who gave the impression on Friday threw greater than 18 pitches, and the ones 18 have been thrown via Taillon, who is also held again for a attainable get started in Game 5. The Guardians, who will get started Triston McKenzie, must paintings round Clase having thrown 33 pitches, Karinchak 29, and Stephan 21. Still, they’ll be using top, having damaged serve in the Bronx and given themselves a likelihood to wrap up the collection again house.

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