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CLEVELAND, Ohio — The longer this went on, the more Guardians manager Terry Francona thought it could end this way.

The temperature kept dropping, the pitching kept getting better, and the batters, faced with an endless stream of hard-pitch relievers and the growing shadows of Progressive Field, kept hitting.

Francona was talking about an innings ending 15 innings of drama and zeros on a cold October Saturday.

Rookie right fielder Oscar Gonzalez must have felt the same way when he came to the plate to face Tampa Bay’s Corey Kluber, who had thrown so many big games at the ballpark at the corner of Carneige and Ontario.

But now the sold-out crowd of nearly 35,000 was behind their guy, Gonzalez. Kluber, one of the most decorated pitchers in Cleveland history, wore the wrong uniform.

“I was looking for breaking ground,” Gonzalez said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I know myself and I know I can react to the fastball, so I was just trying to get myself in a better position for the breaking pitch.”

A breakup pitch, Kluber’s cut fastball, is what he got to start the 15th inning. He took the first cutter at 84 mph for a ball as it dipped in and out of the strike zone. Kluber snagged the second cutter, this one at 85 mph, and Gonzalez hit it like he owned it. The ball landed somewhere in the left field bleachers in a mass of fans to give the Guardians a 1-0 win in a game that covered the most innings in their playoff history.

“There’s no way to describe it,” Gonzalez said. “It was such an exciting moment that I find it hard to put it into words.”

Gonzalez said a quick prayer before stepping into the batter’s box. It’s unlikely he was the only one as the Guardians swept the Rays in the wild card series and won for the 26th time in their last 31 games.

The home run started a celebration at the plate that gathered momentum in the clubhouse as the bespectacled players doused each other with champagne and beer, while smoking big cigars. Gonzalez, 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, was in the middle and it was hard to miss.

Gonzalez called the home run a “wake-up call” for fans still doubting the Guardians, a team that won 92 games during the regular season, while having 17 rookies making their league debut.

“I think the fan reaction is a wake-up call to see where we are, what we’re doing, and more importantly, where we’re going,” he said.

Where Gonzalez, one of 17 rookies debuting in 2022, and the Guards head to Yankee Stadium to open the AL Division’s best-of-five series against the Yankees on Tuesday. They are scheduled to fly to New York on Sunday and practice on Monday.

Southpaw Sam Hentges pitched the final three innings, striking out six, for the win. He played in the minors with Gonzalez and knows what kind of power he has.

“I think everyone in the stadium knew it was out straight away,” Hentges said. “But it was a lot of fun. It’s fun to watch him. I came with him in the minor leagues and it’s cool to see, the rest of the world can now see what he can do.

The Guardians promoted Gonzalez from Class AAA Columbus on May 26. He took to right field like he was born to play it and finished the season with .296 (107 for 362) with 27 doubles, 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 90 games. . Gonzalez’s attack helped fill the void when Franmill Reyes was slated for posting after the August trading deadline.

Gonzalez also represents a fluke. At the end of the 2021 season, a season in which he hit 31 home runs in the minors, he was a minor league free agent. The G’s re-signed him on November 11, 2021, which was a good thing.

What they didn’t do was protect him on the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft in December. But the MLB lockout lasted so long that the Rule 5 draft was canceled and Gonzalez remained in Cleveland.

As Francona said at the end of the regular season, “Thank goodness there was no Rule 5 draft this year.”

“It was really fun to watch, especially for such a young player,” said Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations. “Oscar has been remarkably consistent, and really from the day he was called up he found a way to contribute and help us win games.”

Gonzalez, 24, is young. Its background music is the theme song from the cartoon SpongeBob Square Pants. In the seventh inning, he beat a field single. On a pick-up attempt, he dove into first base and broke his belt. First base coach Sandy Alomar, acting as Gonzalez’s father, took off his belt and gave it to Gonzalez.

But there’s nothing young about the way Gonzalez has honed his home plate game. When he joined the Guardians in Detroit, Francona told him not to worry about the walks — he walked 15 times in 382 plate appearances — and to focus on the swing on good pitches. They asked him to go to right field, make contact and not swing around too much looking for the home run.

Gonzalez did all of that. So when asked if he was trying to hit a home run in the 15th inning, he had the perfect answer.

“I think you can never have that mindset of, you know, looking for a circuit,” he said. “It just doesn’t help. I think for me it’s always about trying to make a good connection, trying to get the cannon on the ball and trying to help the team in any way. That was my goal in this particular at-bat.

“Knowing the pitch I was going to get and tried to make a good connection.”

Mission accomplished.

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