The Cleveland Guardians have moved on to the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees after a dramatic 2-0 series win over the Tampa Bay Rays, and an even more dramatic 1-0 result in 15 innings on Saturday.
Rookie Oscar Gonzalez played the hero, launching a walk-off home run to end the nearly 5-hour long game:
After the game, Gonzalez and his teammates spoke more about the homer and all that surrounded it.
The Akron Beacon Journal spoke to catcher Austin Hedges, who was using the restroom when Gonzalez came up to bat: “I might not have even finished buckling up my pants at the time and I heard the loudest noise of my life and that was his barrel and then the fans started yelling and I saw the boys running out there.”
Manager Terry Francona said he immediately knew the ball was going to sail over the fence, and “probably would have cried if it didn’t.”
For his part, Gonzalez said he just happy and excited to have come through for the team:
“Yes, it was very emotional. I wouldn’t call it relief. I was just kind of excited. My first reaction was seeing some of the fans getting up, but also seeing Sandy [Alomar Jr.] on first base reacting, and before the at-bat, I just said a little prayer and asked God to let me do something good for my team, and more than relief, it’s more the satisfaction to be able to do that for the team.”
Gonzalez has been a fan favorite since joining the team earlier in 2022, using the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song as his walk up music.
He’s not just popular because of his musical selections though; his offensive production has been incredibly valuable for the young Guardians team as well.
Gonzalez has been 25% better than league average, hitting 11 home runs in 91 games for a 2.1 WAR. But nothing’s he’s done has been more important or valuable than the dramatic walk off Saturday.
While they’ll need more production from the entire offense if they’re going to upset the 99-win New York Yankees, these are the moments that can help launch a deep playoff run.
Getting an extra day of rest before starting the next series can only help Cleveland’s chances as well. And most importantly, it gives ESPN another day to figure out what their team name is now too: