CLEVELAND — Josh Naylor had one goal when he stepped up to the plate with his team down one run and a runner on third in the bottom of the 10th inning: Hit a home run.
He didn’t want to hit a game-tying single. He didn’t want to pass the baton to the next man in the order. He wanted to end the game the second he got in the batter’s box. It’s one thing to want to end the game with one swing of the bat, but it’s much harder to actually put it into practice…isn’t it?
“Not really,” Naylor said, definitively.
Clearly, it wasn’t difficult for Naylor, who smacked the opposite-field, two-run homer for his first career walk-off plate appearance in the Guardians’ 7-6 victory over the Twins at Progressive Field on Wednesday night. And when Naylor delivers in a big moment, everyone has learned to be careful if they’re in his way, especially his manager Terry Francona.
No one has a passion for the game quite like Naylor — or at least no one displays it in a way remotely similar to how he does. We saw in May just how emotional he can be in big moments after he threw his helmet down the tunnel at Guaranteed Rate Field, following his game-tying grand slam against the White Sox. He’s such a wild card when his intensity takes over that Francona has learned to be prepared for whatever may happen by wearing a helmet when Naylor is around.
On Wednesday, that was the right choice.
Naylor’s celebration began with a 50-foot bat flip straight in the air (all estimation, of course) half-way down the first baseline. He rounded third and chucked his helmet nearly the same height his bat just traveled and ran through a crowd of his teammates at the plate.
He had already warned them not to jump on him in a dogpile when his walk-off occurred — considering he was determined to make it happen — so that he didn’t cause any injury to his recovering leg. Instead, his teammates doused him with whatever they could find in the dugout and ripped off his…