I stayed up late last night, reveling in the Cleveland Guardians’ amazing comeback win over the mighty New York Yankees. Any time you score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to gain an improbable win, it’s worth relishing the moment. The fact that, by doing so, the Guardians ruined an outlandish Yankees playoff record just made the win all the sweeter. According to ESPN, before last night, the Yankees were a perfect 167-0 in postseason games where they entered the ninth inning with a multiple run lead. Not any more!
But as I experienced the surge of post-win joy, I also reflected on why this Guardians team is such a pleasure to watch. They are underdogs, of course, and as with any Cleveland sports team the expectations are low. They play a vintage, scrappy, hustling brand of baseball that is totally out of step with the power-dominated modern game–so much so that the guys in the broadcast booth can’t help quoting statistics about how the teams with the most homers usually win, and reminding us that the Guardians often need multiple hits to scratch out a run. Never mind that, for years, many great baseball teams succeeded by playing exactly the way the Guardians play the game, relying on strong pitching, good defense, speed on the basepaths, and timely hitting. The broadcasters would do well to remember that the fact that modern teams have chosen not to follow that formula doesn’t mean it won’t work. Cleveland manager Terry Francona, steeped in baseball history, knows this, even if the statistic-obsessed guys in the broadcast booth don’t.
And another appealing element to this Guardians team is its humility and likeability. These aren’t a bunch of showboaters who strike a pose when they get a big hit. A big difference between the Yankees and the Guardians was seen in game one, when a Yankees player thought he hit a home run, immediately went into an all-about-me home run trot, and then got thrown out at first when the ball hit the top of the fence rather than leaving the ballpark and the Guardians’ outfielder made a great throw to the infield to catch the Yankee player off the bag. That embarrassing blunder would never happen to a Guardians player–they would keep their eyes on the ball and be focused on sprinting around the bases.
It’s been a fun baseball postseason so far, with some improbable results–like a team that won 111 games, and the defending World Series champs, both being knocked out early, and two long 0-0 extra-inning games. It would be good for the game if the Guardians continue to make the 2022 playoffs interesting, and this likeable gang and their wizard manager keep showing that there is more than one way to win baseball games.