“I must be freezing.”
That is not the normal reaction of the manager of the winning team after a walk-off victory. But not many farewell celebrations are like the one with Josh Naylor†
On Wednesday night, Naylor shot the Guardians into… a come-from-behind, walk-off 7-6 win with a two-run home run to complete a tenth inning with four runs and a wild comeback for Cleveland against the division rival Minnesota Twins†
Naylor sent a Jharel Cotton fastball to the Home Run Porch in left field and just got enough of it to clear the 19-foot wall. Naylor had carried his bat down the line, waiting to see if it was enough to end the match. When the ball sailed over the wall and the party could begin, Naylor—more like launched—swung his bat into the air in what was arguably the best bat hit in Cleveland baseball history. The bat sailed about 25 feet in the air before finally crashing back to Earth not far from first base.
After the game, Naylor regretted holding the bat for so long because he feared he might hit coach Sandy Alomar Jr.
“No, I should have done it sooner. I was late,’ Naylor said, lamenting his timing. “I could have hit Sandy. I should have done it a little earlier.”
But it was really manager Terry Francona who was about to get in Naylor’s way. After Naylor crossed home plate — a little softer than most hitters do in walk-off celebrations, as he wanted to protect his surgically repaired ankle — he greeted Francona, who had put on a helmet for fun.
That’s been a joke since Naylor’s wild parties during his historic match in Chicago a few weeks ago, where he hit two home runs to lead the Guardians to an unlikely victory. After those home runs, Naylor went to the dugout and put on his helmet, and Francona has since jokingly put on a helmet of his own before Naylor returns to the dugout after a home run.
On Wednesday night, Naylor, now helmetless, hit his own head several times with his hands and headbutted helmet-protected Francona as the team left the field.
“I think he likes being there,” Francona said, talking to Naylor who was on the plate for clutch situations. “I thought he got a little bigger than he wanted the first few pitches. With two strikes, he has the opportunity to go the other way. He fought a few pitches that a lot of people probably miss. But then he’s strong enough. … that was pretty special there. You just hope, they opened the hole in short, put a ball through it and let’s keep playing. That was pretty special.”
When Francona left his post-game press conference with reporters, he jokingly joked, with Naylor in the room, “I need to get ice cold.”
Naylor was clear after the match: he wanted to end it there. When a reporter asked if it was hard to hit a walk-off home run, Naylor stopped him and said, “Not really.”
Naylor went into the at bat with a changeup. What he got were six consecutive fastballs.
“After I realized he threw three” [fastballs] in a row, I had a feeling he would keep doing it because he knew I was on [the changeup]’ said Naylor. “I just tried to hit a homer, to be honest. I was just trying to end the game. I didn’t want to hit any. I wanted to end it. I just wanted to win.”
That swing gave the Guardians three wins this season when they trailed three or more runs at one point in the ninth inning or later. The rest of the league has five combined, and no other team has multiple such wins. Naylor was in the middle of a couple of those games.
“It’s special. [Naylor] has been heroic this year, some home runs late in the inning,” said Cal Quantrill, who threw eight innings high in his career in Wednesday’s win. “Yeah, I think that can boost the team. Obviously we are playing and competing against some good teams here in a row. Some heavy losses. But that’s huge, that’s great. I was in the trainer’s room. I heard it before I saw it. That is amazing. He deserves it. He has worked very hard.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at [email protected] Learn more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/leveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Josh Naylor’s walk-off homer, bat-flip, headbutt climax win