‘It’s brutal’: Sloppy 7th costs Guardians

15 minutes ago

CLEVELAND — Even though the Guardians have won nine of their last 12 contests, it doesn’t make Saturday’s 10-5 loss to the A’s any easier to swallow.

All the momentum Cleveland has been carrying the last few days cruised right through the sixth inning of Saturday’s matchup at Progressive Field. A Jos? Ram?rez double in the fourth prompted a throwing error that allowed Amed Rosario to score and Ram?rez to hastily scurry into third base before scoring on the next play. The Guardians started to pull away with a three-run lead and it seemed as though Oakland’s 10-game losing streak was going to extend to 11 straight losses.

“[Ram?rez] and Rosario together on that play, that was exciting,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “That gets everybody going. That’s good baseball. That’s why the way the game ended is hard to take, because we felt good about things.”

The problems for the Guardians occurred in the seventh inning. Zach Plesac had pitched pretty well and caught everyone’s attention with a jaw-dropping barehanded jump-throw play early in the contest to solidify just how much momentum seemed to be in Cleveland’s favor. But when he got into the seventh, he immediately allowed back-to-back singles before handing the ball to Eli Morgan with no outs and runners on the corners.

Now, there had been little reason to doubt that Morgan could handle this jam heading into the game. He’s been lights-out for the Guardians since the beginning of May, having gone 18 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. But Morgan is still new to this relief role and getting out of this type of a jam was going to be the next big box for him to check off. As close as he came to pulling off a Houdini act, Cleveland’s defense made it difficult for the performance to go smoothly.

Morgan fanned the first batter he faced, and just seconds later, he forced Tony Kemp to serve a ground ball to first baseman Josh Naylor, leaving everyone wondering if Morgan had just induced an inning-ending double play to walk away from the frame unscathed. Instead, Naylor got tied up at first and sailed his throw to second base into left field.

“We try to explain to those guys, I said, ‘Just get outs,'” Francona said. “One out. We’re not gonna double Kemp up anyway. But he got a little ahead of himself.”

Naylor took a step or two away from first base to field the ground ball. Instead of just firing to second base, he paused for a moment and looked back at either the runner or the bag, causing his weight to shift to his back leg. His rushed throw to second became an off-balanced one, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue as the ball trickled into left field.

“Those moments, you got to capitalize late in the game,” Plesac said. “Ahead two runs or so, you have to make good pitches and play good defense.”

Though one run scored on the Naylor error, Morgan locked back in after a quick mound visit and fanned the next batter for the second out. Even as the wheels started to fall off the cart, the Guardians still seemed to have fate on their side. With a 2-2 count and the bases loaded against Seth Brown, Morgan thought he recorded the inning-ending strikeout with a heater on the inside corner, as he took a couple steps toward his dugout. Instead, it was just off the plate and called a ball.

“We want [the call], they don’t. We get that,” Francona said. “We put Eli in a pretty tough predicament where he had to throw more pitches and got himself where he didn’t have any place to go.”

Maybe if backstop Luke Maile would’ve been set up on the inside corner, that pitch would’ve been called a strike for the Guardians. But because Morgan missed his spot, it was harder to get the call to go in his favor, causing him to make another pitch — one that Seth Brown launched deep into the right-field seats for a grand slam.

As solid as Morgan has been, he’s still learning how to make this transition from the rotation to the bullpen. The next step in his learning process will have to be how to quickly turn the page, especially when he’ll have to report for an 11:35 a.m. ET game on Sunday.

“It’s brutal,” Morgan said. “Not gonna sleep tonight. Got an early game tomorrow, so gotta wake up early somehow and find some ways to get better.”