Mississauga’s Josh Naylor slugs way to a Major League Baseball first

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Published May 10, 2022 at 8:56 am

Mississauga's Josh Naylor named Cleveland Guardians' weekly star

While baseball has a statistic for everything, Josh Naylor has to a feat all to himself.

The lefthanded power hitter from Mississauga hit a game-tying grand slam and a game-winning three-run homer — both with two out — during the Cleveland Guardians’ 12-9 extra-innings comeback win against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night. The two home runs, combined with an earlier run-scoring double, made Naylor the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to have eight RBI (runs batted in) from the eighth inning onward in a game. The 24-year-old first baseman, who is a St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School grad, is also the first player to have an eight-RBI game without driving in a run during the first seven innings.

Cleveland trailed by six runs entering the ninth inning against Chicago at Guaranteed Rate Field. Naylor’s Guardians teammates, helped by a fielding error by White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada, staved off the seemingly inevitable long enough to roust White Sox closer Liam Hendriks. Hendriks, a two-time Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year award winner who had converted his last nine save opportunities, loaded the bases. Naylor promptly squared up a 99-mile-per four-seam fastball, which landed in the centrefield bleachers to tie the game.

“I was just ready for anything,” Naylor told Bally Sports Cleveland. “I know he (Hendriks) is a high-velocity guy, he’s a great pitcher and it was a good challenge. I’m ready for all challenges.”

Naylor helped negate Chicago’s chance for a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth. Guardians pitcher Nick Sandlin walked the bases loaded with two out, but Cleveland advanced the game to extra innings after an innning-ending groundout, where Naylor niftily dug out a low low throw from third baseman José Ramírez.

The teams were tied again in the 11th inning when Naylor came up in the batting order again to face Chicago righthander Ryan Burr in a two-on, two-out scenario. There was a little déjà vu all over again, as Naylor poked a 1-0 cutter over the fence in right-centrefield for the three-run home run. That held up as the winner.

In terms of meeting “all challenges,” Naylor has already faced that during the progression from an injury-shortened third MLB season in 2021 to this season with Cleveland.

Last year, the season ended for Naylor on June 27. While playing right field for Cleveland, he sustained a closed fracture and dislocation of the right ankle after colliding with teammate Ernie Clement as they raced to catch a shallow fly ball during an away game against the Minnesota Twins.

The visuals from the play are likely not for the squeamish. Bally Sports Cleveland said that Naylor has still not watched the play.

“I take myself out of the equation,” Naylor told the sports network on Tuesday night when asked about rehabbing from the injury. “All of the hard work I put in, I did it for my teammates.”

Naylor is now receiving more starts at first base than in right field. While it is early in the 162-game regular season, he is giving Cleveland a valuable lefty-swinging middle-of-the-order hitter. Naylor boasts a .574 slugging percentage that would rank ninth in MLB if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the list. His .943 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) would also be 12th-best.

Naylor is also tied for 10th in MLB in with 21 RBI. Most of the league leaders in that traditional counting stat have had between 30 and 50 more plate appearances.

Three years ago this month, Naylor got his first MLB hit in Toronto. As a rookie in his second game with the San Diego Padres on May 25, 2019, he opened his account with an RBI double to deep centrefield during a game against the Blue Jays. He ended up collecting three hits that day during a 19-4 Padres win.

That remains, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and injuries, Naylor’s only career series in Toronto in front of hometown family and friends. Cleveland and the Blue Jays did not play in 2020, when MLB used a regionalized schedule. Cleveland was the second opponent to come to Toronto in ’21 after eased COVID-19 protections allowed the Blue Jays to play in Canada, but that came after Naylor went down for the season.

This time around, Cleveland is slated to make their annual visit to Toronto for an Aug. 12-14 weekend series.

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