CLEVELAND — Moments before being officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Guardians rallied as if a spot in October was on the line.
In a season of so many setbacks, another stirring comeback.
David Fry delivered a two-run double with one out in the ninth inning as Cleveland recovered from Emmanuel Clase blowing another save and rallied to beat the AL-East leading Baltimore Orioles 9-8 on Friday night.
Not long afterward, the Minnesota Twins clinched the AL Central, dethroning the Guardians, who couldn’t defend their title amid a slew of injuries.
“We’ve caught some tough breaks,” said Shane Bieber, who made his first start since July 9. “We’ve not played to our potential quite a bit this season, and we’ve fallen victim to quite a few injuries. But one thing that’ll be constant is our ability to fight and stay together.”
After Clase (3-9) allowed the Orioles to take the lead on Aaron Hicks’ two-run, two-out double in the top of the inning, the Guardians bailed their closer out.
Andrés Giménez, who made two dazzling defensive plays in the eighth and ninth, opened the inning with a double off All-Star reliever Yennier Cano (1-4). One out later, the Orioles intentionally walked Will Brennan to face Fry.
Cleveland’s catcher jumped on Cano’s first pitch, driving it off the wall in left-center to score Giménez and Brennan as the Guardians spoiled what would have been a memorable comeback by the Orioles.
“That’s one thing I’ve always admired about these guys,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “They will play and there’s something to be said for that. It’s not always perfect and I wish our record was better, but I still appreciate.”
Baltimore’s loss kept it 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Tampa Bay, which lost 6-2 to Toronto.
Anthony Santander had three hits and three RBIs for the Orioles.
“That’s a tough loss,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who was forced to go deep into his worn-out bullpen. “We just didn’t pitch well. We hung in there. We got a really nice rally there in the ninth to go up one, another two-strike mistake to lead off the inning, and it’s a tough loss.”
The Guardians won’t make the postseason, but they got something of a late-season reward in getting back Bieber after he missed 64 games.
The right-hander made his first start since July 9, returning from the injured list after being sidelined with elbow inflammation.
Bieber’s injury was a critical one for the Guardians, who didn’t have the 2020 AL Cy Young winner anchoring their staff during the heart of the season. He allowed five runs and six hits in five innings, but his comeback meant much more to Bieber and Cleveland than any stat line.
“A special night for a lot of different reasons,” Bieber said. “For me personally, it was a big goal of mine (to return). It felt great.”
Baltimore was counting on starter Dean Kremer to give them a quality start to protect its tired bullpen, but the right-hander only got through 3 1/3 innings.
It didn’t help that Kremer’s defense let him down with two errors in the fourth, leading to three Cleveland runs.
Giménez started an inning-ending double play with a sliding stop in the eighth and then robbed Adley Rutschmann with a diving stab in the ninth.
“That’s as good as it gets,” Francona said. “Most plays that double play and then that ball, that’s a hit. He’s really something.”
With Baltimore’s bullpen taxed during a difficult stretch, the team recalled right-hander Tyler Wells from Triple-A Norfolk to help.
He was needed right away, pitching two scoreless innings.
Wells was one of the AL’s top starters in the first half of the season. However, the 6-foot-8 right-hander was sent down following the All-Star break and has been pitching in relief. The 29-year-old was a reliever in 2021 and Hyde indicated he could be used in a variety of roles.
“We’re hoping he can help us in that back half of the game,” Hyde said. “We’re looking for guys to get outs right now. They’re pretty fatigued in the bullpen.”
The Guardians honored Cleveland-born rapper Kid Cudi with a bobblehead giveaway.
Cudi’s appearance caused quite a pregame stir amongst the Guardians with pitching coach Carl Willis posing for a picture with him in the dugout.
While Francona admitted not knowing Cudi’s work, he was familiar with Taylor Swift’s guitarist Paul Sidoti, another Cleveland-area native who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before playing the national anthem.
“Love him, love her,” said Francona.
Guardians: Rookie C Bo Naylor was removed in the fifth with a bruised right thumb. David Fry replaced him behind the plate.
Guardians RHP Cal Quantrill (3-6, 5.26 ERA) starts against Orioles LHP John Means (0-1, 3.60), who makes just his third start in 17 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery.