Nerf basketball, loose clubhouse, tight brotherhood: How the clutch Guardians thrive

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CLEVELAND — Myles Straw believes there is such a thing as the clutch gene.

And he didn’t hesitate to identify two Guardians teammates he thinks are blessed with such DNA.

“Yeah, I do. Josh Naylor,” Straw said Thursday. “Just when he hit that ball foul I was like, ‘He's probably going to do it again.’

“But if there is such a thing, Josh, [Andres] Gimenez comes up big every time with guys on second. They just need to keep doing what they're doing and I think we'll be OK.”

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.

In taking the five-game series against the Minnesota Twins 3-2, the Guardians recorded back-to-back walk-off victories.

On Wednesday night, they were down to their last strike in the 10th inning when first baseman Naylor came through with a two-run, opposite-field shot to the Home Run Porch in left field, capping a four-run inning in their 7-6 victory.

On Thursday, second baseman Gimenez picked up the Guardians with a two-out, two-run home run to dead center in the ninth inning for a 5-3 victory as they cut the Twins' lead in the AL Central to one game. Two batters earlier, Naylor nearly did it again, sending a fly ball deep to right field that sliced foul before grounding out.

Gimenez is batting .410 with runners in scoring position, second in the league entering the day, and .468 in the eighth inning or later. Naylor is hitting .364 with runners in scoring position.

Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan jogs to first base after an RBI walk against the Minnesota Twins during the second inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan jogs to first base after an RBI walk against the Minnesota Twins during the second inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.

It marked the Guardians’ fourth walk-off win of the season and continued their magic against the Twins. In the last 10 days, Cleveland (43-36) has won four times against Minnesota when trailing by two runs or more in the eighth inning or later. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that marks the most such comeback wins by one team over another in a full season since 1974 (Detroit over Cleveland).

On Thursday, the Guardians had one hit through 7.1 innings, yet still recorded their 17th victory in their final at-bat and their 18th come-from-behind win.

Asked if it’s exciting or stressful to play that way, Gimenez said, “I think it just gives you a different mindset going into the game. Even if you’re struggling the first eight innings, you know there’s always that emotion to get back. That’s what we keep doing, fighting in that way.”

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez flips his bat after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez flips his bat after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.

Even when they had only a first-inning single by MVP candidate Jose Ramirez, Guardians manager Terry Francona saw no frustration.

“You don’t see guys throwing helmets and stuff. I’m sure they’re frustrated, but they just keep playing,” Francona said. “For a young team, that’s impressive, because a lot of times guys are trying to find their way through the league and they forget about the scoreboard. Our guys do a good job of knowing what the score is and what we need to do to try to win.”

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Straw awakened his teammates with an eighth-inning RBI infield single and another run scored on shortstop Carlos Correa’s wild throw to third for an error.

Myles Straw hits an RBI single for the Guardians against the Minnesota Twins during the eighth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Myles Straw hits an RBI single for the Guardians against the Minnesota Twins during the eighth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

“We don't give up. I don't think there's a quitter in here,” Straw said. "I saw that stat,  something about being down by three runs or something, we lead or whatever, which I thought was pretty cool. That just kind of shows that right there.

“But I believe in anybody here. Gimey's been incredible this year, he should be an All-Star. He does it on the field defensively, he does it offensively, he's a great person and I'm super excited for him.”

Right-hander Shane Bieber said his teammates are a lot of fun to watch and be around.

“I don’t think it’s anything that we take for granted. That first and foremost is a blessing,” Bieber said. “We’re happy coming in each and every day, we keep it loose, guys are playing Nerf basketball before the game. Obviously with some good vibes coming from last night, but to be able to repeat that again today is special.”

The Guardians believe the camaraderie is contributing to their ability to come from behind. They put up the Nerf hoop this week and Straw believes it was infielder Ernie Clement who marked the three-point and free throw lines with athletic tape. Something thicker may be in order considering the use the "court" is getting.

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez watches his game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez watches his game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.

“We get some bets running on it,” Straw said. “Franmil [Reyes] is better than I thought he would be, so he got me once today. So I gotta pick and choose who I challenge.”

Bieber said the Guardians “always have fun.”

“Sometimes we have more fun off the field, which can be crazy,” Bieber said. “It’s a big family in here. You can talk to whoever. You got coaches coming over here to take shots. It just kind of shows you how close this team is, whether it's the coaching staff, players, or whatever.

“When you're around people like that, it just makes everything a lot easier. You enjoy it a lot more and it just is kind of nice. We're just a big brotherhood in here and we love each other.”

Guardians' Oscar Gonzalez will undergo precautionary MRI Friday

Cleveland Guardians' Oscar Gonzalez celebrates with third base coach Mike Sarbaugh (16) after a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)
Cleveland Guardians' Oscar Gonzalez celebrates with third base coach Mike Sarbaugh (16) after a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Outfielder Oscar Gonzalez was a late scratch due to right abdominal tightness and Francona said Gonzalez will undergo an MRI Friday morning.

“I think he’s gonna be OK,” Francona said. “He actually didn’t even realize ‘til he got in here that it was bothering him. The hope is that it’s nothing that’s gonna force him to go to the IL, but we will get him imaged tomorrow morning.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates with teammates after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez celebrates with teammates after hitting a game-winning, two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Cleveland.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Guardians believe in clutch gene after fourth walk-off win