Sound familiar? Naylor clutch again vs. Hendriks

14 minutes ago

CHICAGO — It’s the top of the ninth, Liam Hendriks is on the mound and Josh Naylor is at the plate with a chance to be the hero for the Guardians.

Sound familiar?

It was dej? vu in the Guardians’ 7-4 win in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Just over two months ago, Naylor was at the dish with the bases loaded and his team trailing by four runs when he took White Sox closer Hendriks deep to knot the score in the top of the ninth inning.

It made sense to give him another shot at facing Hendriks.

The Guardians needed to spread out their players, considering the team was ready to take on its ninth doubleheader of the season (and fifth in the last 26 days). Naylor was on the bench, knowing he’d get the start at first base in Game 2. But after the Guardians lost their early lead over the White Sox when reliever Eli Morgan was charged with three runs, Cleveland had an easy decision to give Naylor an extra at-bat on the day.

Following a leadoff double from Nolan Jones and a wild pitch from Hendriks, Naylor was called on to pinch-hit for backstop Austin Hedges in the top of the ninth with the game tied at 4. This time, it wasn’t as dramatic as his two-homer game, including the ninth-inning grand slam, but he was just as effective. A 75-mph bloop single into shallow center was enough to get the job done, plating the go-ahead run and sparking a three-run frame to help secure the victory.

“It’s huge,” Guardians starter Triston McKenzie said of Naylor’s impact. “I think you get to see a lot of his personality [in high-leverage moments], because I feel like you don’t necessarily see it a ton. But when he’s on the bases, he’s just an energy for the team and for himself. I think it just puts us in a good position to go out there and be in a good position to score runs.”

Naylor entered the day with just two plate appearances against Hendriks in his career — one of them being that rather memorable moment from earlier in the season. But his track record against the White Sox made it an even more obvious decision to slot him into the high-leverage spot. He entered the twin bill hitting .382 with three homers and 15 RBIs in eight games against Chicago this season.

“I mean, that’s a very unique man,” Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan said, with a grin. “So maybe he sees things really differently [against the White Sox]. Maybe that’s his edge. Maybe he just gets kind of fired up. You know, the crowd here is different. The stadium is a little different, so hard to say. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he said [there was something to playing against Chicago].”

Toward the end of last month, Guardians center fielder Myles Straw mentioned that Naylor and Andr?s Gim?nez have a “clutch gene.” At that time, they had been two of the most reliable bats in Cleveland’s lineup, consistently stepping up in big moments to keep the team in the win column. And as the calendar creeps closer to August, nothing has changed.

Gim?nez turned in another multi-hit effort in the matinee in Chicago, while Naylor provided the deciding base knock in the ninth. And as those two continue to be consistent at the plate as Kwan settles back in at the top of the order, this lineup is suddenly more dangerous than anyone expected.

“Part of it is, they hit the ball,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “You’ll see Naylor sometimes take a big swing, but he’ll reel it back in and hit the ball the other way. They don’t try to do too much. If it’s a fastball away, they hit it away instead of rolling over or missing.”

And as long as the Guardians are in Chicago, they’ll gladly rely on Naylor.

“I think it’s really special,” Jones said. “Especially, I hear that [Naylor] kind of does really well here. But everywhere. I mean, I think there’s a ton of guys in this lineup that just get the job done, and having that behind you and around you really makes your at-bat a lot easier.”