By Hal McCoy
They are the youngest team in the major leagues.
They have the third lowest payroll ($67.8 million) in the major leagues.
They have 14 players developed within their organization.
They were given just a seven per cent chance to win their division before the season began.
And the Cleveland Guardians say, “So what?”
They are headed to New York to play the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series after an unbelievable game Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a game long enough for beards to grow several inches, Cleveland’s Oscar Gonzalez led the bottom of the 15th with a walk-off home run for a 1-0 victory, the longest 1-0 game in post-season history. And the game lasted 15 innings because the extra-inning ghost runner, the Manfred Man Rule, is not used in the post-season.
The home run came off former Cleveland pitcher Corey Kluber. There was 16 pitchers used, eight by each side. There were 426 pitches, 241 by the Guardians and 185 by the Rays.
The last one thrown by Kluber that landed in the left field seats was the only extra base hit in the entire game. The Rays finished with six singles and the Guardians finished with four singles and a home run.
Cleveland won Game One, 2-1, on a two-run home run by Jose Ramirez. And with the Gonzalez home run in Game Two Cleveland scored all three runs on home runs. The irony is that the Guardians were next-to-last in the majors in home runs. Only Kansas City hit fewer.
Tampa Bay, which finished the season by losing seven straight and nine of its last ten, scored one run in 24 innings of this best of three series.
The Rays home run was hit in Game One by former Cincinnati Reds prospect Jose Siri. But he struck out five times Saturday.
The two teams, both of which pride themselves on making contact, struck out 39 times, 20 by Tampa Bay and 19 by the Guardians. Andres Gimenez struck out five times for the Guardians.
Tristan McKenzie started the game for Cleveland and Tyler Glasnow started for Tampa Bay, a stark contrast.
McKenzie pitched 191 1/3 innings this season. Glasnow pitched 6 1/3, making only two late-season starts after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Both were nearly untouchable.
McKenzie went six innings and gave up no runs, two hits, walked two and struck out eight. Glasnow matched McKenzie with no runs and two hits over five innings and left after throwing only 63 pitches to protect his surgically repaired arm.
After McKenzie, the Guardians received scoreless pitching from James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Sandlin, Eli Morgan, Enyel De Los Santos and winning pitcher Sam Hentges (three innings, no runs, three hits).
After Glasnow, the Rays received scoreless innings from Pete Fairbanks (barely), Jason Adam, Drew Rasmussen, Garrett Cleavinger, Shawn Armstrong and former Reds pitcher Brooks Raley.
But not from Kluber. He pitched a scoreless 14th before Gonzalez ended it dramatically for the 34,971, most of whom stayed the course.
After Game One took only 2:17 to play, Saturday’s marathon lasted 4:57.
There were few early opportunities for the Guardians to score, but they botched one in the sixth when they filled the bases with no outs and didn’t score.
Fairbanks started the inning, a guy who walked only three per cent of the batters he faced during the regular season. But he walked Myles Straw and Steven Kwan to open the inning. The athletic trainer and manager Kevin Cash trudged to the mound and discovered that Fairbanks had no feeling in the pinkie finger of his pitching hand.
He was removed and replaced by Adam. His first pitch hit Amed Rosario, filling the bases. with no outs. That brought up Cleveland’s best hitter, Jose Ramirez, and Adam struck him out. Josh Naylor then hit into a double play.
The Rays put their leadoff hitter on base in the 10th (walk), 12th (walk), 14th (single) and 15th (single), but couldn’t score.
They put a runner on third with two outs in the 10th, but Francisco Mejia lined to center fielder Myles Straw, who chased down nine line drives and fly balls.
They had runners on third and first in the 12th with two outs, but Guardians third baseman Ramirez made a backhanded stop on Manuel Margot that carried him into foul territory. His throw to first was in the dirt, but Josh Naylor dug it out as if his mitt was a shovel to save a run. . .the defensive play of the day.
They had runners on third and second with one out in the 15th, but Hentges struck out Mejia and Siri.
The bottom of the 15th ended quickly, the Gonzalez home run that sent the Guardians into the ALDS.