CHICAGO — Walking into the Guardians clubhouse on Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field was like watching kids who just broke free from their parents on the playground.
Some guys were huddled around one phone, watching highlights of the performance Josh Naylor just put on. Others were screaming in celebration from completing an improbable comeback. And Franmil Reyes was there to make sure everyone was comprehending what just happened.
“You know we’re never going to see that again, right?” Reyes was saying to teammates near his locker.
It was a performance that no one in baseball had ever seen before. An RBI-double in the eighth paired with a game-tying grand slam in the ninth and a deciding three-run blast in the 11th by Naylor not only secured the Guardians a 12-9 victory over the White Sox, but it made Naylor the only player since RBIs became official in 1920 to knock in at least eight runs from the eighth inning on in a single game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That was very impressive,” Reyes said. “Nothing surprises me with what he can do with a bat. That was a legendary moment.”
It would’ve been enough to call Naylor’s night “legendary” after the ninth inning. It was the scene every young baseball fan sets in their backyard: Two outs, ninth inning, bases loaded, your team is trailing and needs you to be the hero. One of the best closers in the game took the ball just one batter before Naylor was sent to the dish. Yet the Guardians first baseman smacked the first pitch he saw (a 99 mph heater) into the right-field stands to tie the game.
“I’m ready for every challenge,” Naylor said. “We’re all ready for every challenge on this team. It doesn’t matter who’s on the mound. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nolan Ryan, we’re ready for it.”
So overwhelmed with emotion, Naylor couldn’t remember if he ever hit a grand slam even in his amateur career. But what we all know is his first big league grand slam came at the most dramatic moment, considering Baseball Savant had given Cleveland a 0.2% chance of winning the game entering the ninth inning. And he wasn’t afraid to show his emotion.
After keeping his composure all the way around the basepaths, he exploded once he reached the top step of the dugout, chucking his helmet into the tunnel, letting out a roar and aggressively high-fiving everyone in sight.
“There’s no holding back in those moments, you know?” Guardians starter Zach Plesac said. “That’s why baseball is the craziest game. The unexpected is always there. … It was special to be a part of.”
Yet somehow Naylor was only getting started. The Guardians plated a run in the 10th to take the lead, but the White Sox were able to respond in the bottom half of the frame to force an 11th inning. With two on and two out and Naylor coming up to the plate to face Ryan Burr, White Sox manager Tony La Russa admitted he contemplated walking Naylor to load the bases and avoid disaster. Instead, chaos ensued, as Naylor launched a three-run homer that ultimately secured the Guardians’ victory.
“I want to go after everybody,” Burr said. “I don’t care who it is. I made a pitch and he hit the ball. That’s the game of baseball for you.”
We already hit on one of Naylor’s achievements from this performance, but that’s not the only history he sparked:
But this game was more than just a fun night to add some accolades to the résumé. This was another instance to prove just how important he can be to this lineup after starting the year hitting .317 with an .804 OPS and 13 RBIs in 18 games entering Monday’s contest.
The Guardians were supposed to have last season to learn about him and allow him to grow into the player they knew he could become, but that was robbed from him when he had one of the most gruesome injuries on a collision in right field that left him with right fibula fractures and torn ligaments. It was hard to believe he was ready to join the big league roster by the team’s home opener on April 15, let alone having him be one of the most productive bats in the lineup. Even though the team missed out on a year of his development, Naylor proved on Monday just how much of an impact he can make.
“I mean we all see some days it’s a little harder for him to move around a little bit and that’s understandable,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “But he looks really good in the batter’s box. And you can tell when things happen how much it means. He’s really emotional. I get it. He missed playing baseball. He missed playing with his teammates. It means a lot to him.”