CLEVELAND (AP) — There was such little belief the Guardians could rally that Slider, the team’s fuzzy mascot, had stripped off his costume to go home.
And then, it happened.
Josh Naylor hit a three-run homer and Cleveland erupted for six runs in the eighth inning to storm back and stun the Los Angeles Angels 8-6 on Saturday night, a win the Guardians hope can jump-start their season.
“We needed it,” starter Cal Quantrill said. “We needed to earn one, earn one late and that was a hell of an inning. I’m really proud of the guys. They’ve been working hard. They’ve been taking some heat and that was good to see.
Down 6-2 and seemingly headed for another disappointing loss, the Guardians, who have been at the bottom of baseball in most offensive categories, pulled off an improbable win that looked like so many last season on the way to an AL Central title.
“It’s funny,” manager Terry Francona said. “You spend four innings thinking, ‘I need to talk to these guys.’ And then about 10 minutes later it’s, ‘Way to go.’ An odd night.”
Andrés Giménez also homered in the eighth for Cleveland, which until that point had hit into some tough luck and hurt itself with bad baserunning.
The Guardians strung together four straight singles with José Ramírez and Josh Bell driving in runs off reliever Andrew Wantz. Naylor, who Angels manager Phil Nevin walked intentionally in the ninth on Friday, then connected on an 0-1 pitch from Ryan Tepera (2-2).
When Naylor’s fifth homer touched down in the right-field seats, Cleveland’s dugout exploded and a crowd of 27,644 fans, some of whom had been booing earlier in the inning, finally had something to get excited about.
“We always play until the last out,” said Naylor, who has hit an MLB-best seven go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later since 2021. “We just try to play hard all nine (innings). Anything can happen. We scored six runs in that inning and that’s kind of unheard of in late innings.
“We have a confident group of guys here. We feed off each other’s energy. Good things happen when you do that.”
Eli Morgan (2-0) pitched one inning to get the win on his 27th birthday. Trevor Stephan retired Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to start the ninth before putting two runners on. The right-hander got Brandon Drury to ground out for his second save.
Mickey Moniak homered in his first at-bat this season and scored three runs for the Angels, who snapped their 10-game losing streak at Progressive Field on Friday and were in position to make it two straight wins before their bullpen flopped.
Zach Neto hit a two-run homer for Los Angeles, which has lost 21 of 23 in Cleveland since 2015.
Nevin didn’t have his full bullpen available, but offered no excuses for this one slipping away.
“Four straight hits, you’ve got to stop the bleeding and find some more outs,” Nevin said, referencing the eighth. “Tep’s (Tepera) been in those situations before. It just didn’t work out this time.”
Ohtani doubled home the first of two runs for Los Angeles in the third, when the Angels got a slight scare as superstar Mike Trout was hit with a pitch on the left elbow.
After Moniak walked and stole second, Trout took a 94.1 mph fastball flush in a gap in his protective padding. The three-time MVP grimaced in pain while walking to first, but stayed in and went to third on Ohtani’s hit.
Trout scored on Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly and he returned to his spot in center field wearing a compression sleeve.
Los Angeles turned a unique double play to keep Cleveland off the scoreboard in the first.
The Guardians had runners at second and third with one out when Bell hit a fly to medium right. Steven Kwan tagged at third and tried to score, but right fielder Hunter Renfroe made the catch and then a perfect throw to third to get a sliding Rosario before the run scored.
It was that kind of night for the Guardians until it wasn’t.
“Yeah, baseball doesn’t always reward you right away, but we battled hard today,” Quantrill said. “We stuck to our guns, that it’s tough to get us out 27 times. It paid off.”
Angels: Rendon was replaced in the sixth inning with left groin tightness. … 1B Jared Walsh (headaches, insomnia) came out of his first rehab game for Triple-A Salt Lake City “feeling great,” according to Nevin. Walsh will continue to get at-bats while playing first and DH. Nevin said Walsh is “on the right track,” but cautioned it could take some time before he rejoins the club.
Guardians: C Mike Zunino (neck stiffness) missed his second straight start. He was available as a pinch-hitter and Francona indicated he could be back in the lineup Sunday.
An 11:35 a.m. start in the series finale Sunday and a high school reunion between Angels LHP Patrick Sandoval (3-1, 3.41 ERA) and Guardians RHP Tanner Bibee (1-1, 4.30), who were teammates at Mission Viejo (Calif.).