CLEVELAND, Ohio — All the Guardians needed to see was that right-hander Paul Blackburn’s night was over.
When Blackburn didn’t come out for the ninth inning Friday night, the Guardians struck for a 3-2 walk-off win over the A’s at Progressive Field. The G’s have won 10 of their last 13, while the A’s have lost 10 straight.
Jose Ramirez (who else?) started it with a leadoff homer against closer Dany Jimenez, who opened the ninth after Blackburn threw eight scoreless innings. It was Ramirez’s 16th homer and his third hit in the game.
Josh Naylor kept the inning going with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Oscar Mercardo. Rookie Oscar Gonzalez doubled him to third with a shot down the left-field line. After Andres Gimenez was intentionally walked, Owen Miller’s sacrifice fly tied the score at 2-2.
Steven Kwan reloaded the bases with an infield single to deep short and catcher Luke Maile ended it with a sacrifice fly to right field. Oakland’s Ramon Laureano slipped on grass made damp by a late shower and his throw was up the first-base line as Gonzalez scored without a slide.
“I wouldn’t say it gave us a lift when he (Blackburn) came out,” said manager Terry Francona. “He put on a clinic tonight. In this era when you see the fastball, he threw four pitches. He really looked like a veteran out there.
“I think Josie was the one who gave us a lift. All of a sudden it’s 2-1 and we’ve got the tying run at the plate. When you get the tying run at the plate, you say, ‘OK, we’ve got a chance.’”
During the celebration, video from the game showed Blackburn yelling at the Guardians from the dugout. Naylor appeared to be playing peace keeper while pulling Mercado away from the A’s dugout. First base coach Sandy Alomar and the umpires were also trying to keep order. Apparently tempers flared when Oakland reliever Sam Moll and Myles Straw got tangled behind the plate after Maile’s game-winning sacrifice fly.
Straw was on deck and Moll, who relieved Jimenez (2-4) after Miller’s sacrifice fly, was backing up the plate.
Maile, who entered the ninth as a defensive replacement after Richie Palacios pinch-hit for Austin Hedges in the eighth, said “I was just trying to execute. You don’t want the moment to get the best of you. You stay as relaxed as you can.”
Maile said Ramirez’s homer made the rally possible.
“It does everything,” he said. “Turning a two-run lead into a one-run lead, I can tell you from the experience of being on the other side, that’s an entirely different thing. You still have the heart of the order coming up. Josie starting the inning was a blast is like starting the inning fresh as a 2-1 game instead of a 2-0 game. It’s enormous.”
Gonzalez’s double gave him a hit in 13 of his first 14 big league games for a franchise record. He crossed the plate with the winning run standing and smiling.
The 6-4, 230-pound Gonzalez is hitting .393 (22-for-56) with six RBI. He’s one of several young players who are making big contributions to the Guards.
“Sometimes you just get out of their way because you don’t want to make them nervous,” said Francona. “They’re young, they’re having fun. . .I mean they’re going up against some men and we’ve got kids. . .and we’re doing OK.”
The Guardians are three games behind the first-place Twins in the AL Central. At 28-26, they’re two games above .500 for the first time since April 21 when they were 7-5.
The ninth-inning rally saved Triston McKenzie from another hard-luck loss. McKenzie has allowed only 39 hits in 64 innings this season. The opposition was hitting .170 against him entering Friday night’s start. But he has developed a problem when it comes to the bases-empty home run. He’s allowed 11 homers this season, nine with no one on base.
That variety of homer is not supposed to beat a pitcher, but don’t tell that to McKenzie. Seth Brown and Sean Murphy homered in the first two innings to put McKenzie on the verge of his third straight loss before the ninth-inning rally.
McKenzie has allowed seven homers in his last three starts, six solo. Those seven homers have accounted for all the runs McKenzie has allowed (nine) in those starts.
In his last two starts, Blackburn allowed eight runs on 12 hits in 10 2/3 innings in losses against Houston and Boston. That was not the Blackburn the Guardians faced Friday night. Facing Cleveland for the first time since 2018, he held them to four hits over eight innings. He didn’t overwhelm with velocity. Rather he kept Cleveland off balance with a curveball that averaged 78.3 mph and a sinker that averaged just under 92 mph (baseballsavant.com).
Oakland struck early with homers by Brown and Murphy for a 2-0 lead after two innings. Brown homered deep into the right field seats with two out in the first. Murphy homered to left with one out in the second. McKenzie didn’t allow another run through his six innings of work, but the Guardians couldn’t do anything against Blackburn.
Ramirez doubled with two out in the first and took third on a throwing error by Murphy, whose pickoff attempt from behind the plate sailed into center field. Naylor walked, but Gonzalez took a called third strike to end the inning.
Austin Hedges singled to start the third, but was forced on Myles Straw bouncer back to the mound. Amed Rosario followed with a single, but Ramirez drove a 3-2 pitch to the warning track in right and Naylor went down on a soft liner to short.
Ramirez hit his second double of the game, this time with one out in the sixth, but Blackburn retired Naylor and Gimenez.
Anthony Gose (2-0) pitched the ninth for the win.
Next: RHP Zach Plesac (2-4, 4.72) vs. RHP Frankie Montes (2-8, 3.06) Saturday at 4:10 p.m. Fox Sports 1, Balley Sports Great Lakes, WTAM and WMMS will carry the game.
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