3:46 AM UTC
CLEVELAND — Over the past week, things have started to feel a little familiar to Steven Kwan.
In the 11th inning Saturday night, Kwan showed all of Cleveland why that was by slashing a walk-off sacrifice fly to right-center field to give the Guardians a 7-6 win over the Rays at Progressive Field to help Cleveland secure its fourth straight win and keep its postseason heartbeat alive.
Kwan’s sacrifice fly put the cap on a wild inning that’s become the norm in games between the Guardians and Rays. Here’s a breakdown of what happened in a lead-up to the walk-off.
Bottom of 9th inningWith the Guardians down 6-5, Will Brennan and Oscar Gonzalez recorded hits off Rays closer Pete Fairbanks, which set up Kwan with runners at first and second with two outs. Then, as if to add another layer to an already convoluted situation, Kwan was called for a pitch-timer strike by home plate umpire CB Bucknor while Jos? Tena was coming into the game as a pinch-runner for Gonzalez after Myles Straw came to pinch-run for Brennan.
“To be honest, I didn’t really understand [why I got the violation],” Kwan said. “Myles Straw was calling for time at second so I did the same and then [Bucknor] told me that I had gone past eight seconds [remaining on the pitch timer].”
That didn’t faze Kwan, who lined the first pitch he saw from Fairbanks into left field to tie the game at 5.
“I don’t swing at the first pitch a lot of times, but when you’re down 0-1, it kind of simplifies things because you can’t really take one there,” Kwan said.
Top of the 10th inningWhen the teams took the field the next inning, Andr?s Gim?nez showed why he earned a Gold Glove last season when he and Bo Naylor pulled off a do-or-die play to throw out Luke Raley at home and keep the game tied.
On the play, Gim?nez fielded a 91.5 mph chopper and fired an 88.7 mph seed straight to Bo Naylor’s glove, where he was able to slap a tag down on Raley moments before he touched the plate.
“That was such a good play,” manager Terry Francona said. “Gim?nez was going as fast as he could and still had the wherewithal to throw the ball in the only place he could to get the out.”
Bottom of the 11th inningAfter the Rays recorded a run in the top of the 11th inning with a sacrifice fly, they called reliever Chris Devenski, who was making his debut with the club after being acquired earlier in the week. He opened the inning with a strikeout of Gabriel Arias but hit a wall with Naylor, who fouled off four pitches and took a ball in the dirt to keep the plate appearance alive.
“I was just trying to think about as little as possible there,” Naylor said.
After Devenski’s 10th pitch of the plate appearance sailed high and tight, Naylor walked, setting up Tena, who entered the game with only eight MLB at-bats under his belt, with runners on first and third with one out after Straw stole third during Naylor’s at-bat.
For some rookies, such a moment would be too much. But not for Tena, who spent all of Naylor’s at-bat watching Devenski pitch along with going over his video on a tablet.
Prior to Naylor’s at-bat, Tena had been pulled from the on-deck circle for David Fry, but Francona opted to send him back up to the plate after Naylor’s walk because his presence on first meant that the right side of the infield would be open. Tena dumped a first pitch changeup into that vacated hole with the tying run.
“I was looking for a pitch up and I was able to get one and make contact,” Tena said through interpreter Agustin Rivero.
In the mayhem of the moment, Naylor was able to sprint to third base, which ended up being just as crucial as the run scoring, as Kwan brought him home a pitch later on his sac fly.
With the Twins’ win against the Rangers on Saturday, the Guardians remain five games back in the American League Central, making next week’s three-game series against Minnesota even more important.
“We have an uphill battle, but keep playing until they make you go home,” Francona said.