CLEVELAND — Even though the Guardians have won nine of their last 12 games, that doesn’t make Saturday’s 10-5 loss to the A’s any easier to swallow.
All the momentum Cleveland has been carrying over the past few days came through the sixth inning of Saturday’s game at Progressive Field. A brace from José Ramírez at fourth resulted in a throwing error that allowed Amed Rosario to score and Ramírez to rush to third base before scoring on the next play. The Guardians began to pull away with a three-point lead and it looked like Oakland’s 10-game losing streak was going to expand to 11-game losing streak.
“[Ramírez] and Rosario together on this play, it was exciting,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “That puts everyone in agreement. It’s good baseball. That’s why the way the game ended is hard to accept, because we felt good.
The Guardians’ problems came in the seventh inning. Zach Plesac had thrown pretty well and caught everyone’s attention with a jaw-dropping bare-handed jumping game early in the contest to solidify just how much momentum seemed to be in Cleveland’s favor. But when he entered the seventh, he immediately allowed back-to-back singles before handing the ball to Eli Morgan with no outs or runners in the corners.
Now, there was little reason to doubt Morgan could handle that pre-game jam. He’s been off for the Guardians since the start of May, having gone 18 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. But Morgan is still new to this relief role and getting out of that type of jam was going to be the next big tick box for him. As close as it came to pulling off a Houdini act, Cleveland’s defense made it difficult for the performance to go smoothly.
Morgan fanned the first batter he faced, and seconds later he forced Tony Kemp to serve a ground ball to first baseman Josh Naylor, leaving everyone wondering if Morgan had just caused a double end-of-inning play to walk away from the frame unscathed. Instead, Naylor tied up first and made his throw to second base in left field.
“We’re trying to explain to these guys, I said, ‘Just get out,'” Francona said. “One out. We’re not going to overtake Kemp anyway. But he got a little ahead of himself.
Naylor took a step or two away from first base to line the ball up on the ground. Instead of just shooting at second base, he paused for a moment and stared at the runner or sack, which shifted his weight onto his back leg. His rushing throw to second became lopsided, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue as the ball flowed into left field.
“These moments you have to capitalize on late in the game,” Plesac said. “Before about two points you have to make good throws and play good defense.”
Although a run scored on Naylor’s error, Morgan locked in after a quick visit to the mound and fanned the next batter for the second out. Even when the wheels started falling off the cart, the Guardians still seemed to have fate on their side. With the count 2-2 and the bases loaded against Seth Brown, Morgan thought he recorded the late-inning strikeout with a radiator in the inside corner, as he took a few steps toward his dugout. Instead, he was just wide of the plate and called a ball.
“We want [the call], they do not. We understand that,” Francona said. “We put Eli in a pretty tough spot where he had to throw more pitches and ended up where he had nowhere to go.”
Perhaps if backstop Luke Maile had been placed in the inside corner, that pitch would have qualified as a strike for the Guardians. But because Morgan missed his spot, it was harder to get the call in his favor, which led him to make another pitch – one that Seth Brown threw deep into the right field seats for a grand slam.
As solid as Morgan has been, he’s still learning to make that transition from the rotation to the bullpen. The next step in his learning process will have to be how to turn the page quickly, especially when he has to show up for a game at 11:35 a.m. ET on Sunday.
“It’s brutal,” Morgan said. “I won’t sleep tonight. I have an early game tomorrow so I have to wake up early somehow and find ways to improve.