Entering the eighth down two runs against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night, the Cleveland Guardians struck out four times in their half of the inning. Sounds like the Tigers really owned those chumps, right?
First, Andrew Chafin K’d Owen Miller on a pitch with a ton of break. Eric Haase ably collected it to throw to first and complete the out.
Then, after a lengthy struggle, he put away Andrés Giménez with something very high and very tight:
When Luke Maile stepped up to the plate with two outs, Chafin got him to swing and miss at a pitch so deceptive that Haase handled it about as well as Maile.
Finally—and a little later—with Alex Lange on the mound, Andrés Giménez whiffed at strike three to end the inning. In this moment, the Tigers tied a major-league record for most strikeouts in one inning. Amazing!
… What? Oh. Why was Giménez batting for the second time in the frame? Um. Hm. I guess you deserve to know the truth. In between the third and fourth strikeouts, the Guardians chipped and chipped away with a parade of lucky contact and absurd bounces until suddenly they were cruising to an 8-4 win. Some hits were more ridiculous than others, but all of them, together, made for the kind of sequence that might as well have ended the season for the 45-75 Tigers right then and there.
Myles Straw—whose OPS+ is 59 right now!—sent a single past the legs of Chafin and up the middle. Steven Kwan, the king of weak but effective contact, skied a fly ball that, had it landed a little to the left, would have been caught, and had it landed a little to the right, would have been foul. Instead, it was an automatic double that scored one. Amed Rosario followed up with basically a swinging bunt that moved just slowly enough to plate the tying run.
The Guardians weren’t done. José Ramírez pulled a Kwan and sent a bloop to left that landed with pinpoint accuracy between outfielder and infielder. Oscar González restored some dignity to these RBIs with a smash off the wall. And finally, Miller drove in the final run of the ball game with a rope to left-center. The Tigers would go down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth.
“I went from, ‘Yeah, all right,’ to ‘Well, crap,’ pretty quickly,” Chafin said afterwards. “It’s not a nice game and it’s going to get you like that sometimes. That’s baseball for you.”
Nowhere in the sport are the lines between those two sentiments as blurred as they are in the AL Central, where the Guardians hold a one-game lead over the Twins and a two-game lead on the White Sox even though their 63-55 record wouldn’t even net them second place in most of the league’s other divisions. Coming off a chaotic loss of their own, where controversial calls led to manager Terry Francona getting ejected and Austin Hedges giving a stump speech in the locker room about inequality, and facing what would have been their third straight defeat against easy pickings, the Guardians didn’t panic. They just got the kind of breaks that teams sometimes get and that that bad teams tend to give you, then took advantage. It was like they knew they had spent too much time going “Well, crap” and were due for a “Yeah, all right” moment.
That’s one way to interpret what happened, at least. Another might be that baseball is a stupid and random game and this Midwestern collection of frustrating weirdos and hapless debacles that make up the AL Central just reinforces how chaos reigns supreme over our own lives.