Cleveland Guardians 2022 season: The top moments, the defining stretches, the headbutt

The 2022 Guardians put together a regular season that few would have predicted based on the Opening Day roster.

Instead of a transitional year in which a few prospects received playing time with an eye on 2023, 17 rookies made their debuts with the Guardians, many of them making immediate, positive impacts en route to a 92-win season and an American League Central Division title.

There were 13 extra-inning wins, a few breakout seasons, a number of rookie success stories, a few records broken and one memorable headbutt.

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Here are the top moments of the 2022 Guardians regular season.

Steven Kwan's record-breaking MLB debut

Steven Kwan broke camp with the big-league club, found his way into the Opening Day lineup and put together one of, if not the, best offensive stretches to begin a career in baseball history.

Kwan reached based 15 times in his first four career games, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since at least 1901. He also didn't have a swing-and-miss for 40 swings and 116 pitches, the most pitches without missing for any player to debut since at least 2000, according to Elias.

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Kwan finished the month of April hitting .354 with a .459 on-base percentage.

Andres Gimenez wins Sue Kelley a car with a grand slam

Andres Gimenez had a breakout 2022, and the Guardians weren't the only ones who benefited.

On April 29, in Oakland, Andres Gimenez hit a grand slam in the third inning, meaning he took advantage of the Liberty Ford Grand Slam Inning and won Sue Kelley of Ashland a brand new car.

Josh Naylor wins it with historic, multi-homer game in Chicago

On May 9, Josh Naylor accomplished something that had never been done in baseball history.

Trailing the White Sox by four runs in the top of the ninth, Naylor launched a score-tying grand slam. In the top of the 11th, Naylor blasted a three-run home run that gave the Guardians a 12-9 lead, which went on to be the final score.

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In doing so, Naylor became the first player in MLB history with two three-run or better home runs in the ninth inning or later in the same game, according to STATS. He also had a game-saving play at first base on a low throw from Jose Ramirez in the bottom on the ninth that extended the game into extra innings.

The Colorado-Los Angeles-Minnesota road trip in which the Guardians first grabbed first place

The Guardians as of May 29 had fallen to a 7.5-game deficit in the divisional race. In the next few weeks, they went 17-4, ending with a 7-2 road trip.

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That was the key stretch in which the Guardians re-joined the race as a serious contender and on June 22, momentarily, took over first place. The Guardians were soon three games behind after a few days, but it was that stretch between late May and June that brought them back into contention and within striking distance of the divisional lead.

Josh Naylor walks it off, then headbutts Terry Francona

Naylor had some fiery celebrations during the 2022 season. One of them left manager Terry Francona needing some Tylenol.

On June 29, Naylor belted a walk-off, two-run home run to give the Guardians a 7-6 win against the Minnesota Twins. It led to a sky-high bat flip, a wild celebration and ended with Naylor giving Francona a celebratory headbutt as he walked off the field. Francona did have a helmet on, which was part of a running joke after Naylor spiked his helmet into the dugout after his historic game earlier in the year in Chicago.

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Francona, half jokingly after the game: 'I gotta go ice my neck.'

Emmanuel Clase strikes out the side in the 2022 All-Star Game

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez earned the start for the American League in the 2022 All-Star Game. Emmanuel Clase went on to finish it, striking out the side and earning the save for the AL.

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In what was his All-Star Game debut, Clase needed just 10 pitches to accomplish one of his goals, which was to secure those three strikeouts on that national stage.

Emmanuel Clase of the Cleveland Guardians celebrates after recording the final out.
Emmanuel Clase of the Cleveland Guardians celebrates after recording the final out.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has an umpire check James Karinchak's hair during an at-bat

This one was more on the bizarre side.

With James Karinchak on the mound on Sept. 9 in Minnesota, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli asked the umpires to check his hair. Karinchak often fidgets between pitches, tossing the ball into his glove, running his fingers through his hair and then on his uniform, over and over.

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Baldelli wanted the umpires to make sure Karinchak didn't have any sticky substance in his hair that might help with his grip. That led to a bizarre scene in which umpire Ted Barrett ran his fingers through Karinchak's hair right there on the mound in the middle of not only a game, but an at-bat.

Guardians sweep White Sox in Chicago after Elvis Andrus' 'crumble' comment

Leading into their final series against each other, White Sox shortstop Elvis Andrus commented that they knew the Guardians would eventually "crumble" down the stretch.

Instead, the Guardians rolled into Chicago and outscored the White Sox 22-11 en route to a three-game sweep, which extended their lead in the division to seven games and effectively ended the race. The Guardians went on to clinch the division three days later in Texas.

Guardians clinch the 2022 American League Central crown

A season that exceeded the expectations of everyone outside of the Guardians clubhouse came to a point last Sunday when the club cliched the division in Texas.

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Technically, the division was won the moment the White Sox lost to the Detroit Tigers that day, which came a few minutes before the Guardians won their own game. Either way, the youngest team in baseball had officially taken down the White Sox and Twins, two teams that expected to be the frontrunners who both fell far short of their own projections.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Guardians top moments of 2022 MLB season