Image: USA Today

Friday night was all about runs. Saturday, pitching was the story of the night as a vintage Shane Bieber performance, a strong bullpen outing and two clutch RBI by Andrés Giménez and Myles Straw carried the Guardians to a 3-2 victory in extra innings over the Twins to close the gap in the AL Central to two games. 

Guardians (16-16) 12 – Twins (19-15) 8. WP: Nick Sandlin (3-1), LP: Jharel Cotton (0-1), SV: Emmanuel Clase (7)

Bieber Bounces Back

The last outing before Saturday for Shane Bieber was up there for one of the worst of his career. He lasted only three and a third, giving up seven earned runs on eight hits, walked three and for the first time in his career, had zero strikeouts. His fastball didn’t hit more than 91 mph at all during the outing, a concern that his lingered since the start of the season. It wasn’t at all what an ace like Bieber looks like normally and a good portion of people were hitting the panic button. 

Saturday, Bieber bounced back with a vintage Shane Bieber performance that so many fans are used too. His fastball topped off at 92.6 mph and his four-seam was averaging around 91.2 mph, one of his highest average velocities of the season. He lasted six innings, giving up one earned run on a homer, seven hits, three walks and fanned seven batters. For Bieber, it was all about bouncing back, especially against a division rival on the road.

“Just kept things simple,” Bieber admitted, “Tried to just be me, stay the same, stay focused on going out there and doing better than my last outing.”

Bieber’s command and pitches were all much better compared to his previous outings. His knuckle curve proved to be one of his most effective pitches on the night. He got an average break of 51 inches, which matches his yearly average on the pitch. In his start against the Blue Jays, Bieber only threw his cutter eight times in 3.1 innings. In six against the Twins, he threw it 30 times, which resulted in a whiff rate of 38%, turning out to be his best pitch of the night. Bieber felt a lot more comfortable throwing his off-speed pitches compared to a week ago.

“My stuff felt good. I felt like I was working through my delivery pretty well.”

Bieber’s start didn’t come without some stressful moments. Multiple times in the game  Bieber did run into a jam. Once in the third and once in the fifth, with the fifth inning proving to be a turning point in the game. With no outs, Bieber hit Max Kepler with a pitch that loaded the bases, bringing up Giovanny Urshela, who began his career with Cleveland. Urshela checked his swing, but made contact right back to Bieber, who smartly threw it to Austin Hedges to step on home to stop a run from scoring, and then fired it to first for a 1-2-3 double play. Bieber then got Jose Miranda to ground out to end the inning. He may have gotten into jams, but he got out of them and kept the Twins to only one run. 

Manager Carl Willis praised Bieber’s ability to get out of jams.

“He’s a gamer,” Willis praise. “He wants to go out and do his part and he certainly does.”

Bieber had nearly 100 pitches but came back out for the sixth inning. He faced four batters and got three of them out, reaching 109 pitches, but giving some valuable rest to the bullpen so that they didn’t have as big of a load.

“For him to get through that sixth inning after a really tough situation in the fifth was huge,” Willis said.” It allowed us to really set up the bullpen how we wanted to.”

Strong Bullpen Outing

With six valuable innings from Bieber, the Guardians were able to use key parts of their bullpen. First, they brought on Trevor Stephan, making his 14th appearance of the season and did what he’s done all season, be efficient and not allow any runs. In fact, he’s held opponents to no runs in 13 of his 14 appearances, with the lone being when he gave up two runs against the San Diego Padres on May 4. Stephan got the Guardians into the seventh inning before Nick Sandlin came on. He lasted until the ninth inning and kept the game tied. After two runs by the Guardians in the 10th inning, the Guardians brought in closer Emmanuel Clase to finish things out. The automatic runner on second did cross home plate on a grounder to shortstop Amed Rosario, but Clase got three outs, striking out Nick Gordon to end the game. That gave Clase his seventh save of the season and brings the Guardians back to .500. 

3-1 in Extra innings

Playing in extra innings for the second time in four games during this road trip, the Guardians needed to take advantage anyway possible with the game being low scoring and runs hard to come by. With Ernie Clement pinch running for Franmil Reyes, up came Andrés Giménez, who’s arguably been the hottest hitter for the Guardians the last two weeks. 0-3 on the night, Giménez once again came through for the Guardians, smacking a 78.9 mph changeup by Jharel Cotton of the wall in right, bringing home Clement to give the Guardians a one run lead. 

“I was just trying to do my job there,” Giménez stated, “get a good pitch to move the runner to third base and basically that’s what I was thinking there.”

With Giménez on, the next two batters got out, bringing up leadoff man Myles Straw, who was in an 0-21 drought. With family in the stands, Straw broke through the slump with a huge insurance run, singling into right field, scoring Giménez and giving the Guardians a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the 10th. Straw knew the run was going to be huge and felt great that his hit to break the drought came at the most important time of the game.

“I’m glad it wasn’t just a random fifth inning single,” Straw said. “I knew that second run was going to be huge. It always is in extra innings. I saw Clase warming up and a two-run cushion is always a good cushion for that guy.”

Slumps Broken

As mentioned before, Straw broke his 0-21 hitless streak to give the Guardians a two-run lead, but he wasn’t the only one to break out of a slump. In the month of May, the April AL Rookie of the Month Steven Kwan was only batting .200. Saturday, Kwan got back to his hitting ways of old, grabbing two hits and bringing his OPS back to above .800 at .804. Kwan is a rookie and knows that as he gets more situated into the league, people are going to find ways to pitch against him, so he’d have to adjust. Another mini slump that was broken was by Franmil Reyes. After a blistering hot week during the last home stand, he had gone four games in a row without registering an RBI. That changed in the second inning when he singled home the first run of the game to make it 1-0.

Giovanny Urshela Nostalgia 

One bright spot for the Twins on the night was by a former Cleveland player, Giovanny Urshela. Urshela wanted to make an impact against his former team and for the most part did. He scored the only run against Shane Bieber on the night, a solo home run in the fourth inning. Urshela also picked up the other run for the Twins, hitting an infield single in the bottom of the 10th to cut the lead to one. He was always known for his defense in Cleveland and made more than a few plays in the field against the Guardians. He made a huge snag off of a hard grounder by José Ramírez in the third inning that he quickly turned a double play with. Although, the one thing Urshela would’ve preferred the most was a win in this case.

The Guardians tied the series at one and go for the series win Sunday at 2:10 p.m. A win by the Guardians would cut the Twins AL Central lead down to one going into a five-game home stand with the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers. 

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