CLEVELAND (AP) — Just call Josh Naylor the eighth wonder.
Three swings over three days — all in the eighth inning — turned Naylor into a late-game star baseball hasn’t seen in over 60 years.
Naylor connected for a three-run homer in the eighth again Sunday — his third go-ahead homer in that same inning in the series — and the Cleveland Guardians held on for a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
After Angels manager Phil Neven had José Ramírez intentionally walked to him, Naylor drove a 2-0 pitch from reliever Carlos Estévez with two outs over the wall in right to snap a 1-1 tie.
On Friday, Naylor hit a solo homer leading off the eighth inning to give Cleveland a 4-3 lead, and his three-run shot Saturday night highlighted a six-run outburst in the eighth as the Guardians rallied for an 8-6 win.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Naylor is the first player since 1961 to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in three straight games.
“He’s always been just a natural,” Guardians center fielder Myles Straw said. ”Whenever he’s up at the plate, you always assume something good’s going to happen. I’ve seen him do that for a year and a half now. He’s definitely a special hitter.”
As he rounded third, Naylor, who has toned down his home-run celebrations after his “rock the baby” theatrics backfired against the Yankees in the postseason, bumped into a cameraman trying to record another memorable moment by the chunky slugger. He’s hit an MLB-best eight homers after the eighth inning since 2021.
“You have to learn how to ride the wave and sometimes it’s not going to be going well and sometimes it’s going to be going off the charts, but you got to stay even keeled,” Naylor said.
Following Naylor’s homer on Friday, Angels manager Phil Nevin intentionally walked him to lead the bases in the ninth inning before LA escaped. Faced with a similar situation, Nevin decided to roll the dice.
“I’m not going to let José Ramírez beat me,” Nevin explained. “I said that before the series started, and I had my best against (Naylor) with where we’re at right there. I felt good about the matchup. He just got into another one.”
Naylor’s homer pinned a tough loss on Angels starter Patrick Sandoval (3-2), who held the Guardians to five hits in 7 2/3 innings while matching Guardians starter Tanner Bibee, his former high school teammate.
James Karinchak (1-4) got one out in the eighth, retiring pinch-hitter Mike Trout on a drive to center knocked down by the wind, as the Guardians won the series.
Off the bat, Straw thought Trout’s ball was leaving Progressive Field.
“You assume when he gets a ball at that launch angle, it was loud and everything,” Straw said. “I thought it was going to be a home run or close to the wall. So obviously I went back and t just died, hit a wall and it came straight down.”
Cleveland then had to survive a harrowing ninth by closer Emmanuel Clase. The right-hander gave up two runs, one on an RBI single by Shohei Ohtani, before retiring Brandon Drury on a grounder for the final out and his 14th save.
For seven innings, Bibee dominated the Angels in his fourth starter before they pushed a tying across against him in the eighth. He allowed just two singles — both by Taylor Ward — and struck out seven without a walk.
The 11:35 a.m. start may have helped Bibee him as well as LA’s players were still on West Coast time and their bats looked a little sleepy.
The right-hander retired the first 12 hitters without any trouble before giving up a leadoff single to Ward in the fifth.
Bibee was thrilled to get to face Sandoval, who he has known since they played together in Mission Viejo, California.
“It was cool,” he said. “We talked after my start at Yankee Stadium, like, ‘Hey if it lines up we can pitch against each other.’ So we’ve talk about it for a week now. I’m happy we won. I’m happy we both did well, too.”
Trout wasn’t in the starting lineup, getting a planned off day.
It gave the superstar a chance to recover after a rough two games in Cleveland. He crashed into outfield wall on Friday making a catch and was drilled in the left elbow by Cal Quantrill on Saturday.
Nevin said the pitch also hit Trout’s thigh.
“He got dinged pretty good, but he’ll be all right,” Nevin said.
The morning game is part of MLB’s contract with NBC and Peacock, which began streaming Sunday games last year.
The 11:35 a.m. first pitch was especially challenging for the Angels, whose body clocks were three hours behind. They have two more early games scheduled later this season.
“It is difficult,” Nevin said. “I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’m confused with the scheduling and West Coast teams coming out here right away and having to play a game. I don’t think it’s right, but we’ve got to play it.
“It’s not an excuse. They have to get up early, too.”
Angels: 3B Anthony Rendon (groin) was out of the lineup after getting hurt in Saturday’s game. Nevin said Rendon will be evaluated and it’s likely he’ll miss at least a couple days. “We don’t want to push it,” Nevin said. ‘Hopefully this is a short thing and he’ll be back, but we’re certainly going to miss his bat.” … 1B Jared Walsh (headaches, insomnia) had his second solid game a Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday. Nevin planned to connect with him at some point.
Angels: Ohtani (4-1, 2.74 ERA) starts the opener of a four-game series at Baltimore. The right-hander leads the majors in opponent batting average (.143).
Guardians: Cleveland is off on Monday before opening a three-game series in Chicago with Shane Bieber (3-1, 2.81 ERA) facing the White Sox, who have not yet named their starter.