3:00 AM UTC
CLEVELAND — Silence. That’s all there was in the Guardians’ clubhouse after Tuesday night’s 8-3 loss to the Twins at Progressive Field.
Sure, there’s a type of quiet after every loss, but this was palpable. Cleveland knew what this series meant. It knew it was coming off of an improbable tone-setting road trip that prompted the front office to make one last playoff push by acquiring a trio of players off waivers on Thursday.
It was still a long shot, given the Guardians’ five-game deficit coming into the series, but it was possible. Now, Cleveland’s playoff hopes are dwindling.
The Guardians have gone 6-6 against the Twins this season, meaning the winner of Wednesday’s series finale will earn the edge in a possible tiebreaker scenario.
“It sucks, for sure,” outfielder Will Brennan said. “We expect a lot of things out of each other, and it definitely sucks. But we’re ballplayers. We’re going to keep our head down, and [we’ll] come back tomorrow and try to salvage the series.”
Monday’s series opener got out of hand in a hurry. On Tuesday, the hope for Cleveland was there through the first seven innings. Guardians starter Tanner Bibee certainly didn’t have his best command, yielding a career-high five walks that drove up the intensity of his five frames exponentially. And yet, the 24-year-old rookie found a way to limit the Twins to just two runs on four hits with four strikeouts.
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“The good part was he competed like crazy, because I didn’t think he had his best stuff nor his best command,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “But he competes like crazy and that’s a great quality.”
The offense supported Bibee, too. Thanks to a two-run homer from Bo Naylor in the third and a sacrifice fly by Myles Straw in the fifth, the Guardians owned a one-run lead at the time Bibee was pulled from the game.
Then, the eighth inning happened.
As hot as Cleveland reliever Trevor Stephan was in August, his 1.38 ERA from last month didn’t translate against Minnesota. He gave up a single and a double to start the decisive eighth frame, then he was able to record a strikeout before a sacrifice fly scored the go-ahead run.
But the wheels fell off when Stephan walked back-to-back hitters, allowed another run to score on a wild pitch and then hit the next batter he faced. With the bases loaded, Donovan Solano served a hit into shallow center field that scooted by Straw, resulting in a bases-clearing triple.
“Myles has got to try to catch it like he did, because it’s kind of do or die, and he got caught in between,” Francona said.
Stephan watched his season ERA jump from 2.83 to 3.54 after allowing a career-high five runs. Cleveland watched its playoff odds grow slimmer after a second consecutive gut punch against its division rival, as the bats couldn’t muster a comeback after the detrimental eighth inning.
“We squared up a few balls with guys on base, and that’s all you can ask for is that opportunity,” Brennan said. “We just missed out on that opportunity. We had guys out there and just couldn’t cash in.”
The Guardians are well aware of their situation. They know they are seven games back with just 23 contests remaining in the regular season. The deafening silence in the clubhouse said more than any player in the room could have uttered.
But as long as there’s a chance, Cleveland is going to try to claw its way back into this race.
“We’re never not going to play,” Francona said. “I’ve never been accused of being a math major. We need to win. The best way is to win tomorrow, because we certainly didn’t put our best foot forward the last two nights.
“I don’t think you can run from what we haven’t done, but until it’s time they make you go home, we keep playing.”