Guardians sweep Rays in Wild Card round


Courtesy of Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Rookie Oscar González ended the 15 inning stalemate between the Guardians and the Rays, bringing home Cleveland’s a postseason win.

Gaurav Hardikar, Staff Writer

The Major League Baseball postseason kicked off on Friday, Oct. 7 with the Cleveland Guardians hosting the Tampa Bay Rays in the best-of-three Wild Card round. Though they have made two postseason appearances in the last 4 years, the rebranded Cleveland franchise was hunting for its first postseason win since 2017.

The Guardians exceeded expectations this season, winning the American League Central division after experts predicted the team to miss the playoffs and have a losing record. Though the Rays lost just six more games than the Guardians, Tampa Bay snuck into the playoffs as the last AL Wild Card team and the third best team in their own division.

Looking to set the tone of the series early, Guardians manager Terry Francona selected All-Star pitcher Shane Bieber to take the mound first in Game 1. Bieber, a two-time All-Star and 2020 Cy Young winner, was coming off his second-best season in which he posted a team-leading 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts to go along with his 13-8 record. 

The Rays went with Shane McClanahan, who entered the duel as the statistically more dominant Shane. The Rays pitcher earned his first All-Star selection this season, with a superior ERA of 2.54 and only four fewer strikeouts than Bieber, even though he pitched 33.2 less innings.

Nearly 31,000 fans filled the stands at Progressive Field, eagerly awaiting the Game 1 pitching showdown as Bieber took the mound. The fan-favorite ace started off sharp, striking out two of the first three Rays hitters and allowing no baserunners, thereby giving his hitters a chance to take an early lead. Unfortunately, McClanahan dealt a clean inning of his own, giving up only a single to shortstop Amed Rosario.

The two pitchers went back and forth, pitching a hitless second inning before centerfielder Myles Straw hit another single off McClanahan in the bottom of the third. Bieber continued to dazzle, recording his third and fourth strikeouts in the fourth inning while the Guardians offense picked up two more singles and continued to slowly gain momentum. The Rays finally recorded their first hit of the day with a leadoff single, but Bieber and the Guardians fielders shut down any hope by getting the next three Tampa hitters out.

The Rays remained determined and scored the first run of the game in the top of the sixth as centerfielder José Siri hit a rocket off Bieber for a 403-foot solo home run. With first blood drawn, the Guardians hitters wasted no time and retaliated in electric fashion. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Rosario hit another single and was driven in by a 389-foot home run from All-Star third baseman José Ramírez, whose hitting prowess helped him be among the league leaders in doubles (44) and intentional walks drawn (20) in the regular season.

Bieber pitched another hitless inning in the seventh and picked up another two strikeouts. McClanahan and Bieber each gave up a single in their next appearances before Bieber was relieved by All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase, who led the league in games finished and saves this year. Picking up where he left off, Clase kept the Tampa offense quiet to secure the series-opening win for Cleveland.

With the series on the line, Progressive Field drew in around 4,000 more spectators for Game 2 on Oct. 8. Triston McKenzie, perhaps the Guardians’ best starting pitcher behind Bieber, pitched a hitless first inning, foreshadowing the Rays’ fate.

McKenzie’s efforts were greeted by an equally spotless first inning by Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow. Activated off the Injured List towards the end of the season following a lengthy recovery from the infamous Tommy John surgery, Glasnow played in just two games this year. He made his 2022 debut against the Guardians on Sept. 28 and gave up one run in three innings. Now, he was set to face Cleveland to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive. 

McKenzie had a nearly perfect second inning, striking out three batters but walking one. Glasnow similarly let Josh Naylor hit a single but followed it with three strikeouts. McKenzie struck out another three straight in the third, but Glasnow wouldn’t budge either. Each team singled in the fifth inning, hoping to break the dead heat, but dominance at the mound kept the score tied at 0.

In the sixth inning, the Rays’ Pete Fairbanks replaced Glasnow but was also immediately replaced by Jason Adam after walking the first two Cleveland batters. Adam hit Rosario with his first pitch, loading up the bases with no outs for the Guardians and giving them a chance to break the game wide open, especially with their best hitter stepping up to the plate. However, Adam quickly regained his composure and struck out Ramírez. Naylor then grounded into a double play, taking the air out of the stadium as the Rays breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The seventh, eighth and ninth innings were eerily quiet, with Guardians rookie Oscar González recording the only hit in that span. The game then went to extra innings, with both teams still looking for its first run.

The top of the 10th inning began with Nick Sandlin pitching for Cleveland. Though he walked the first batter, Sandlin remained calm and kept the Rays off the board. Garrett Cleavinger pitched for Tampa and struck out all three Guardians batters to force an 11th inning. Eli Morgan replaced Sandlin and kept the Rays offense off base before Shawn Armstrong forced yet another extra inning after allowing only a single from Straw.

The Rays seemed to have the Guardians on the rope in the top of the 12th, with men on first and third, but were unable to capitalize. The 13th and 14th innings were also quiet, save for a Tampa single. Once again, the Rays had men on first and third in the top of the 15th, but the Cleveland bullpen continued to pile on strikeouts and give their offense yet another chance. 

With a seventh extra inning looming and both teams’ pitching options wearing thin, González stepped up to the plate against Rays pitcher Corey Kluber. The matchup was nerve-wracking for Guardians fans who were all too familiar with Kluber, a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Cy Young winner who had previously pitched for Cleveland. Yet González was unfazed. After taking a cutter for ball one, González cranked back and unloaded on Kluber’s second pitch, crushing the ball for a 410-foot walkoff home run that ended the Rays’ season in one swift blow. Progressive Field erupted in cheers as the rookie strutted around the bases to seal the thrilling 1-0 win for Cleveland, propelling them to the next round of the postseason.

The Guardians now face the New York Yankees, led by AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge, in the AL Division Series (ALDS). Though Cleveland boasted the No. 6 pitching staff in the majors this season, their offense was evidently lacking and was ranked No. 16. Meanwhile, the Yankees are a far more lethal and balanced team, with the No. 3 pitching staff and the No. 4 hitting staff in the MLB. The Guardians will truly need to bring their all on both sides of the ball in the next round in order to take down the formidable champions of the AL East.

The Guardians’ first home game of the ALDS will be Game 3 on Saturday, Oct. 15.