Guardians have company atop AL Central

47 minutes ago

CLEVELAND — The wind was rapidly taken out of the Guardians’ sails as Cal Raleigh launched a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning on Sunday.

The two teams had endured a rain delay of 4 hours, 33 minutes earlier in the afternoon. The Guardians finally showed signs of life at the plate, tying the game in the eighth inning, which eventually forced extra innings.

The gritty, comeback nature of this young team that has been displayed all season suddenly was back in the third-base dugout at Progressive Field. It seemed as though Cleveland’s rough losing streak was on the brink of ending, even after the Mariners took a one-run lead in the top of the 11th. But as Raleigh’s long ball flew over the fence, that momentum was immediately halted, resulting in a 6-3 loss.

“It stings at the end, but we fought back,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Our pitching’s probably not in the greatest shape for tomorrow, but I still think the way we fought will serve us well.”

The loss stings because of the way it played out. It stings even more because the Guardians have watched the four-game lead in the American League Central they boasted at the beginning of the week get erased. A Twins victory on Sunday led to a tie atop division. But that’s not causing the team to panic.

“It’s our responsibility to find whatever positive there is and pull it out because we’re going to have to sleep quick and find some energy for tomorrow,” Francona said. “Because I don’t think Kansas City is going to feel sorry for us.”

As their losing streak stretched to five games on Sunday, the Guardians have yet to show any indication of being rattled. And as Francona alluded to, the team chose to focus on the positives of the comeback in the series finale against Seattle and realize it’s an indication that the club is on the brink of finding its stride yet again.

“We’re a comeback team, and we’ll fight to the end,” Guardians infielder Tyler Freeman said. “Like I said before, it just didn’t go our way. Down the stretch, it’s going to get tough. We know it’s going to be a battle, but we’re confident in what we’ve got going forward.”

James Karinchak stayed sharp, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the 10th inning. Oscar Gonzalez showed his first sign of breaking out of his slumping ways by smacking the game-tying RBI single in the eighth. Josh Naylor, who boasted a .143 average in his last 11 games entering the day, picked up two hits.

“We have a good group of guys,” Freeman said. “No one’s selfish here. We know that once the game’s over with, it’s over. And we’re going to have to approach the next day and get a win going forward. We’re not stressed or anything right now. We know our game and we’re going to go forward with it.”

As much as the Guardians would like to emphasize the positives, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of their situation. The club will need to take advantage of a three-game set against a sub-.500 team in the Royals this week to get back in the win column and try to create some separation in the division before a crucial stretch of eight games against the Twins in 11 days begins on Friday.

If Cleveland can’t right the ship immediately, the division could slip out of its hands in a hurry.

At the same time, this is a team that was never projected to be in this position at this time in the season. In a semi-rebuilding year, the young, inexperienced roster has found a way to still have a share of first place in September. But now that the Guardians have made it this far, their eyes are set on clinching a postseason berth. And the team is confident that if it continues to focus on the positives, it can get there.

“Sometimes the game is hard,” Francona said. “But I’m glad that we fought back. It’s a hard way to lose, but if we do that, we’re going to figure it out.”