Guardians ‘release the pressure valve’ with clutch hits in finale

May 12th, 2024

CHICAGO — Manager Stephen Vogt knew his Guardians hitters had been pressing with men in scoring position throughout their four-game set with the White Sox. He also believed the solution to those problems wasn’t too complicated.

“When somebody comes up, and that guy touches home plate, it can release the pressure valve,” Vogt said ahead of Sunday’s finale at Guaranteed Rate Field. “It’s like, ‘OK, yeah, we can do this.’ It’s somebody grinding out an at-bat. It can be an RBI groundout. It could be a jam-shot single. It could be an error.”

Or it could be a sac fly.

Brayan Rocchio delivered one of those in the third inning on Sunday to give the Guardians their first lead of the series. And then, just as Vogt prophesized, multiple big hits promptly arrived to help Cleveland top the White Sox, 7-0, for its 10th straight win on Mother’s Day.

“You could feel an exhale,” Vogt said. “Everybody’s been working really hard and trying their best; we just hadn’t been getting it done. To scratch one across was huge for us.”

It may seem trivial to assume a team that had been struggling to cash in with runners in scoring position would suddenly wake up after a sacrifice fly. But based on what happened after Florial dashed home on Rocchio’s pop out to left, Cleveland finally coming through with men on truly did wonders for the rest of the offense.

One inning after Rocchio put the Guardians ahead, Andrés Giménez delivered a solo blast just one pitch after taking a foul ball off his right knee that sent him to the ground in pain for several minutes. Two batters later, Josh Naylor laced a 102.5 mph double to left, then trotted home two pitches after that when David Fry unleashed a Statcast-projected 405 foot two-run blast.

“You go through runs in a season,” Fry said. “Sometimes with runners in scoring position, you’re just not getting the job done, and it felt like that the past couple days. But Rocchio gets it done, and it felt like everybody could just take a deep breath.”

Not only did Rocchio’s breaking of the dam unlock big hits from the rest of the lineup, it also helped Cleveland get back to the chaos baseball it’s known for.

With two outs and runners at the corners in the sixth, Will Brennan hit what appeared to be a routine groundout. But his sprinting up the first-base line at a Statcast-projected 29.1 feet per second forced a missed catch error by first baseman Andrew Vaughn, allowing José Ramírez to score from third. After Fry came home on a passed ball, Florial doubled in another run.

Suddenly, a Guardians team that had spent the weekend stranding runners had seven men come across the plate before the end of the sixth.

“The important part is just to get that first run,” Giménez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “Once that first run comes, good things happen. Three games cannot dictate what we do as a team, and I know those good things are going to continue to happen.”

The Guardians’ resuscitated offense gave Logan Allen more than enough breathing room to work with.

After taking a 105.7 mph line drive from leadoff hitter Tommy Pham off his back, Allen regrouped to blank the White Sox through six innings, striking out three on his way to his first scoreless outing since April 3 at Seattle. The southpaw was the fourth Cleveland starter to pitch into the sixth this series, helping ease the burden on a bullpen which entered the set feeling quite taxed.

His showing on the mound, coupled with the offense finally uncorking the at-bats it’s used to producing, ensured the Guardians left Sunday feeling confident the early-series struggles weren’t going to follow them out of Chicago.

“We just know that we’re always one game away from pulling ourselves out of whatever little rut we’re in,” Allen said. “Obviously, the road trip didn’t start the way we wanted it to, but you’ve got plenty more opportunities. We’ve got a long season, so we can’t get so caught up on three games.”

It’s a mentality that was preached throughout the four-game set with the White Sox. Each of the three losses were followed by members of the Guardians insisting they would find their groove again. Credit Vogt for knowing exactly how little it could take for that to finally happen.

“Every team is going to go through little stretches that we have, and they’re going to come back,” Vogt said. “I’m not shocked by anything our hitters do. These guys can hit. They’re great players, and they’ve been doing it all year. It was a tough series for us, we have a lot of things to work on, but it was nice to get one today.”