Cleveland Guardians face elimination Monday in New York
History — fresh, breathtaking, awe-inspiring history — did not repeat itself Sunday night, despite the never-say-die spirit of the Cleveland Guardians and the never-give-up support of the team’s red-clad fans at Progressive Field.
Cleveland headed into the decisive bottom of the ninth inning of the American League Division Series Sunday night trailing by two runs to the reviled New York Yankees.
Saturday night, in the same situation, the Guardians scored three runs on five singles to come from behind and win the game, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Sunday, there was no such magic. The Guardians went down in order in the ninth, the ballpark as quiet Sunday as it was deafening Saturday.
The Yankees prevailed 4-2, sending the best-of-five series to New York for a fifth and final game Monday. The winner faces the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series Wednesday. The loser is done for the season.
The odds are daunting. The Yankees Optimists among Guardians faithful, which is most of them, will take note that the team has proven critics wrong as underdogs all season. Playing a decisive game in New York makes them big-time underdogs once again.
“I’m a little disappointed, but we still got game 5, I’ll take it. They’re wonderful, top to bottom. Youngest team in the majors this year. Excellent team,” said Kevin Lyons as he left the ballpark with his wife, disappointed about the loss, but hopeful for Game 5.
Hours earlier, confidence was in the air and there was a lot of talk about history and meaning.
Pat Rose was at the game with her daughter and grandson. Her husband couldn't make it because he is in his 53rd season coaching high school football and had a team meeting Sunday, but she kept up his tradition for him by keeping score of the game in his lucky score book. What would it mean to beat the Yankees in this series?
"Everything! It would be so exciting," said Rose, clutching her husband's scoring book. "Last night I had to leave the room because I was afraid about the bottom off the 9th inning, that they might lose."
She gets another chance Monday.
Jim Weinfurtner brought his daughter and her husband to the game, and all three have kept up the family tradition of painting their faces to look like a baseball and coming out to support the team in the postseason.
"Normally it's myself and my brother, and we've been doing it since this park has been around," said Weinfurtner. "Before '95, we had not been to the playoffs since 1954, so our saying is, 'We have not missed a playoff game since 1954.'"
"There's always something about playing the Yankees. In the old days, we would sell out the old stadium, 65,000 fans, and if we beat the Yankees just one day in a year, it was all good. That was our Super Bowl," said Weinfurtner. "I cannot describe the feeling of beating a Yankees team. I can't put it into words. It's an incredible thing."
The Guardians went down 3-0 early in Game 4, putting a Sunday night win in doubt. Rain started coming down halfway through the affair, but never hard enough to delay the game. As the game got to the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Guardians down 4-2, the air in the ballpark was decidedly tense. And the deflating ninth did nothing to change that.
Still, a Saturday night win and now the hope of toppling the Yankees for good on Monday, spawned optimism.
“We’re gonna stay positive, we’re gonna keep going and we’re gonna win in New York! We’re gonna take ‘em out,” said Jim Baker as the last out was recorded Sunday.
Another game was played just north of Progressive Field Sunday. The Browns were pounded by the Patriots earlier in the afternoon. Jeffrey Ansell and Andy Shaffer were there, and they hopped right over to Progressive Field to see the Guardians play. They experienced two losses in the same day.
"We hate the Yankees. Let's face it," said Shaffer with a grin.
"It's Cleveland, if the Cavs were playing tonight," said Ansell, "I'd leave from this game and go watch them."
Sunday night's loss came after a breathtaking Saturday night, nerve-jangling come-from-behind win for the Guardians in Game 3, giving them a chance to clinch the series in Game 4 Sunday.
With two outs, the bases loaded, and down one run in the bottom of the 9th, Oscar Gonzalez, the young Venezuelan rising star, who is perhaps best known around the league for his penchant to walk up to the plate to the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, was staring down the most dramatic of at-bats.
Gonzalez hit a walk-off shot past second base, sending in two runs to win the game and sending the crowd into maniacal cheers.
“Sweet revenge,” said James Mihaly, 22, of Lakewood. Mihaly has lived in Cleveland his whole life and come to view the Yankees as a hated rival, a common sentiment of Cleveland baseball fans. The Yankees eliminated Cleveland from the postseason in 2017 and 2020, and also in 1998, during the height of the team's success under then-Manager Mike Hargrove.
“I can’t say the words I would use to describe the Yankees in any media,” said Mihaly with a laugh.
Also spotted rooting for the Guardians Saturday was Cleveland Cavaliers backup point guard, and fan favorite, Ricky Rubio. The Spanish basketball star was with his wife and baby and gamely chatted it up with fans who were happy to see him back in town after being traded away last season, then signing on with the team in the offseason.
Among the sell-out crowds this weekend was a solid showing of Yankees fans, some traveling from New York to see the game, many others were Cleveland locals who root for the pinstripes.
Joe Jaffal and his son Zayd were wearing Yankees jerseys while watching the game Saturday with Joe’s brother, Ahmad Jaffal, who was rooting for the Guardians. The family used to live in New York, where Joe was born, but moved to Cleveland before either Ahmad and Zayd were born.
“The family moved from New York in 1990, I was born in 1991, and I ride for my city,” said Ahmad, who was with his brother and nephew.
“Either he gets to talk smack all day or I get to talk smack all day,” said Ahmad about the family dynamic during the postseason.
Traveling even farther for the game were Lionel and Chakira Galloway, a married couple who live in Alabama who came up to Cleveland to meet a long-time friend and fellow Yankees fan to watch the game in Cleveland.
“I’m a die-hard Yankee fan. I been a Yankee fan ever since they won the World Series back in ’96,” Lionel said. Coming up to Cleveland, he said, sounded like a good opportunity to see the heated matchup in person. “It’s an under-the-radar rivalry, I would say."
“I’m a Yankee fan by marriage,” Chakira added with a laugh.
The stands at Progressive Field glowed red on both nights, thought and their cheers drowned out the pockets of Yankees faithful.
Eli Fletcher, a 66 year-old Cleveland-born musician who may be better known to locals as "Guitarman," the rock’n’roll superhero (he wears a cape). He was outside the stadium getting fans revved up and providing some entertainment and good spirit before the game.
“Any time there’s people about and danger lurking,” said Fletcher, “I have to come out and save Cleveland.”
There's only one song, beyond the SpongeBob SquarePants theme, that Guardians fans want to hear Monday night.
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