Cleveland’s baseball team changed its nickname to the Guardians before the start of the 2022 season, but these days, the club is going by another moniker.
The Guardiac Kids.
Heading into Saturday’s doubleheader against the visiting Twins, the American League Central-leading Guardians have made a habit of winning late, especially against Minnesota.
Cleveland opened its key five-game series with the Twins on Friday night by rallying from a 3-0 deficit to pull out a 4-3 victory.
Pinch runner Ernie Clement raced around from second base to score the game-winner on Jhoan Duran’s wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Guardians (77-66) increased their division lead to four games over the Chicago White Sox (74-71) and five games over Minnesota (72-71).
Seven of Cleveland’s 10 wins against the Twins this season have come in their final at-bat, tied for the franchise’s most against an opponent in a season since 1906. The Guardians also accomplished that feat in 1943 and 1959 against the Detroit Tigers and in 1942 against the Washington Senators.
“This team, we’re never out of a game,” Clement said. “Everybody on the bench knows that.”
Cleveland manager Terry Francona wants his team to embrace its nail-biting ways.
“I mean, it’s exciting,” Francona said. “Guys work all winter and all spring and play all year and you have the right to play in a game that’s this exciting. That’s great, man. Embrace it.”
Cleveland will square off against a pair of rookie Minnesota pitchers on Saturday.
Right-hander Louie Varland (0-0, 3.38 ERA) was recalled from Triple-A St. Paul to make his second career start in the opener. He will be opposed by right-hander Shane Bieber (10-8, 2.91).
Right-hander Josh Winder (4-4, 3.83 ERA) will make his eighth major league start in the nightcap for the Twins against Guardians rookie left-hander Konnor Pilkington (1-2, 4.30), who is set for his 11th start.
With only 19 games remaining, the Twins need to win the series in Cleveland to have a realistic chance at catching the Guardians in the standings.
“It’s not a lot of them, but we still have games,” Duran said. “We just have to go out there and execute and play good baseball the rest of the season. Today wasn’t the last game of the season.”
Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner, is 6-1 with a 3.39 ERA in 15 career games and 14 starts against the Twins. He earned a 4-1 win in Minneapolis on Sunday when he allowed one run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven and walking one.
Varland was impressive in his major league debut on Sept. 7 at Yankee Stadium. He gave up two runs, including a solo homer to Aaron Judge, on three hits over 5 1/3 innings while striking out seven and walking one. The Twins eventually lost the game 5-4 in 12 innings.
Winder is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against Cleveland. He outdueled Pilkington in a 6-0 victory on June 28 when he allowed four hits over six shutout innings. Pilkington gave up four runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings that day.
“I mean, this is a huge weekend for us leading into next week (and three games at Chicago), especially in this last stretch of the season,” Cleveland pitcher Triston McKenzie said. “I think just the energy, the vibes in the clubhouse is these are must-win games for us and we’re going to go out there and play like it.”
–Field Level Media