Guardians’ inexperience on display on key miscue

6:26 AM UTC

CLEVELAND — With youth comes a lot of hiccups and excitement, something that was on full display in one single play in the Guardians’ 2-0 loss to the White Sox on Saturday night at Progressive Field.

In the top of the seventh inning, Cleveland was trailing by just one run, but the team knew it didn’t have much breathing room, considering Johnny Cueto was making it impossible for the Guardians to string any hits together. After Shane Bieber‘s solid 6 1/3-inning performance, he turned the ball over to James Karinchak with Chicago’s Elvis Andrus on second base.

Andrus immediately stole third base and Josh Harrison lifted a fly ball into right field. Will Benson made the catch and fired toward the plate, but cutoff man Josh Naylor didn’t intercept the throw before it got to backstop Luke Maile. The ball bounced away from Maile and rolled just far enough to allow Andrus to race home and score before anyone could flip the ball back to home plate.

In the end, an extra run for the White Sox didn’t make a difference since the Guardians were shut out, but the difference between a one-run and a two-run deficit in the final three frames against a red-hot hurler like Cueto for a team that’s been notorious for late-game comebacks all season felt monumental.

Let’s take a deeper look at what happened on that play.

The error was handed to Benson for his throw, but he may be the last to blame in this situation. It’s been clear that he hasn’t found his stride in the big leagues as quickly as some of the other rookies this season, but this play can’t fall on his shoulders.

“There was nothing wrong with Benson’s throw,” Maile said. “I mean, it was about as good of a throw looking back on it as you could ask for.”

The first problem was Naylor, who was standing in the infield grass serving as the cutoff from the outfield, did not attempt to cut the throw. Instead, he pretended like he was making the catch — something that’s usually done when a defender is trying to fake a runner from advancing to another base.

“The way you’d like is for Naylor to glance [at the runner on third], which he didn’t do,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Then he kind of deked and I think the only person he deked was Maile. … He just got a little ahead of himself.”

When Naylor had determined that he wasn’t going to be cutting off the throw on his own, Maile could’ve helped guide the situation by yelling for Naylor to snag the ball, but instead, he let the ball come to him.

“I sort of swallowed my whistle on that,” Maile said. “You usually don’t hear the catcher anyway, but I would feel a little bit better about myself if I had.”

Maile was prepared for the ball to skid off the wet grass. However, the ball traveled farther than he anticipated and hit off the dirt instead, causing it to bounce up and not skid. So, the ball hit his mask and trickled away.

“In retrospect, it was just a stupid mistake,” Maile said. “He’s not gonna be running on that play. I had a lot of time to back up if I wanted to, but I was kind of dead set that it was going to skip and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to get underneath me and the ball popped out of the glove. It’s just a mistake.”

With inexperience comes moments like these. Benson has only been in the Majors a few weeks and Naylor is still transitioning back to first base after playing the outfield the last few seasons. But with youth also comes excitement — even on a play like this.

When the ball escaped Maile, the closest person to it was second baseman Andr?s Gim?nez, who hadn’t been involved in the play at all. Gim?nez tried to make an impossible diving flip to the plate, but couldn’t execute the difficult play. He’s dazzled with his glove all season and continues to give the Guardians reasons to be excited about inking him in their middle infield for years to come. And even when the worst is happening, he’s proving that he’ll continue to be someone to rely on.

“That’s unbelievable,” Francona said about Gim?nez being the closest to the ball. “The kid tries to be everywhere.”