Gonzalez’s late heroics put Guardians back in first

58 minutes ago

KANSAS CITY — In what had to rank as one of his most memorable at-bats of the season, Oscar Gonzalez delivered in a big way Monday night and brought a collective sigh of relief to his Cleveland teammates.

Tenth inning, tie game. Gonzalez stepped to the plate with two on and one out. He got a pitch he liked and drove the ball high and far to left-center field for a two-run double that snapped a tie and lifted the Guardians to an eventual 6-5 victory over the Royals. That clutch hit by Gonzalez meant Cleveland could say goodbye to a five-game losing streak and hello once again to sole possession of first place in the American League Central.

“That,” Gonzalez said through an interpreter, “was pretty special.”

After losing a tough one to Seattle in extra innings on Sunday, the Guardians arrived in Kansas City ready to turn the page but soon found themselves in extras again. This time, the close one went their way, thanks largely to Gonzalez.

With a runner at second to start the 10th, Royals manager Mike Matheny elected to walk leadoff hitter and All-Star slugger Jos? Ram?rez. The strategy backfired when Gonzalez came through with a booming drive that forced center fielder Michael A. Taylor to play it off the wall as two runs came across.

The Royals answered with one run in the 10th off closer Emmanuel Clase — who made a ranging play to get the final out at first after a challenge — so the intentional walk to Ram?rez wound up being the difference maker.

“I get it,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Jos? is one of the best hitters in the game, and it sets up a double play. Just nice to see guys come through.”

The Guardians had a two-run lead on three occasions, but couldn’t break away from the pesky Royals. But Clase was finally able to nail it down, allowing Cleveland to put the losing streak in the rearview mirror.

Gonzalez got the game-winning double off Carlos Hern?ndez after Kansas City used closer Scott Barlow to get through the ninth.

“I have played with [Gonzalez] at almost every level and he has always had that strength,” shortstop Tyler Freeman said. “Look at him now.”

The Guardians were working with a taxed bullpen after going 11 innings on Sunday. Starter Triston McKenzie threw 5 2/3 solid frames and the bullpen was good enough, with Sam Hentges looking particularly sharp in a four-out performance and Eli Morgan getting through the ninth to keep it a tie game.

McKenzie allowed just three hits but needed 101 pitches to get 17 outs. A two-run homer by Drew Waters erased a 2-0 Cleveland lead in the fifth.

“I think it’s huge for momentum,” McKenzie said of Monday’s win. “I think [Sunday] we showed a ton of fight and we tried to carry that into today. We talked about it on the bus last night, in terms of we haven’t been playing our best baseball. We all know it, from top to bottom. But it hasn’t necessarily dimmed our light. We’re still going to go out there and play hard.”

The Guardians executed a safety squeeze with catcher Austin Hedges getting down the bunt that produced Cleveland’s first run. The Guardians were either playing with a lead or tied all the way through, but the Royals wouldn’t go away.

“Our heads weren’t down,” Freeman said. “We have the good vibes in the clubhouse. We aren’t looking back.”