‘Unforgettable weekend’: Guardians win 6th straight series with late rally

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LOS ANGELES — The Guardians had their first test of the 2022 season this weekend: Prove they can beat good teams. It seems safe to say their mission was successful.

After yet another late-game rally, punctuated by a pinch-hit RBI double from Richie Palacios, Cleveland pulled off a 5-3 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon to secure their sixth consecutive series win.

“That’s as adrenaline-filled as it gets,” Guardians reliever Eli Morgan said. “Two come-from-behind wins and just late ballgame heroics in Dodger Stadium. … Everything kind of added up to an unforgettable weekend and to take two of three from those guys is huge.”

This young, inexperienced roster has won 15 of its last 19 games and is building steam for a crucial stretch in which it’ll face the first-place Twins eight times in 10 days. And because of the win on Sunday, the Guardians sit one game back of Minnesota in the division after beginning this hot stretch on May 30 trailing by 7 1/2 games.

“I mean, we have a chance to come back from a long, pretty good lineup [of opponents on this] road trip as winners,” Morgan said. “And we have another tough stretch coming when we get back home, but we’re playing good ball right now and we’re hot.”

Here’s a look at three things that helped the Guardians keep momentum in their favor.

1. Gonzalez flashes his power

The pressure of hitting his first big league home run can now disappear. Not only did Oscar Gonzalez launch a solo shot, but the slugger delivered when his team needed him most, tying Sunday’s game at 2 in the sixth inning.

“That’s a big part of my game and a lot of people were expecting that,” Gonzalez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero, “but I think most importantly that I was able to help the team win.”

Gonzalez has a reputation for being a tremendous power hitter, considering he smacked 31 homers during his 2021 Minor League season. With a quick glance at his impressive big league numbers thus far, one might have thought his .802 OPS was a product of a boom-or-bust approach at the plate. Instead, he’s been the opposite, racking up base hits and doubles before launching the first homer in his 22-game career.

Merge that approach with his power and he could be quite the asset for the Guardians moving forward.

“You could see he was excited,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody’s asking him [about when his first homer would be] except for us. We just want him to swing at strikes. If he swings at strikes, he’s going to be just fine.”

2. Palacios: The ultimate pinch-hitter

Palacios helped Cleveland secure the series opening victory at Dodger Stadium with an extra-inning, pinch-hit sacrifice fly. Two days later, he delivered in the eighth with a pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI double to right field.

“Obviously his confidence is high,” Francona said. “But he doesn’t just sit over there and eat seeds. He’s watching the game, he looks at the iPad, he looks at the pitchers. … Man, he’s put some really good at-bats up there. Tough situation. He’s done really well.”

Palacios said he’s leaned a lot on advice from backstop Luke Maile on how to stay prepared even when he’s not in the game. And now that he delivered yet again when the Guardians have thrown him in a tough situation, it makes the team’s decision about whom to send down when Franmil Reyes is activated on Tuesday even more difficult, though Francona has been clear he thinks Palacios can get more consistent playing time in Triple-A, which he thinks is important.

3. Filling in the Josey void

Not only was the weekend a test to prove the Guardians can handle a tough opponent, it became a bigger challenge when they were forced to play without their best hitter in Jos? Ram?rez, who underwent an MRI on his right thumb Sunday morning.

It goes without saying that Ram?rez’s absence leaves a huge void in this lineup, and on Saturday, the offense realized how tricky it would be without him after getting held to just two hits. But the Guardians continually prove they are adaptable and they’ve figured out how to lean on young guys like Gonzalez, Palacios and Andr?s Gim?nez, who added the insurance run in the ninth with an RBI single to center. And now they know they’re able to handle whatever situation is thrown at them.

We’re asking a lot of these guys,” Francona said. “I mean, we’re asking them to play the game with energy every day and I know they get tired, but they bring it. And just to hear their enthusiasm during that game, man, that got me going.”