Heroes can come from anywhere, and the Cleveland Guardians have a pretty good reputation for finding them. The offensively-challenged, defending American League Central Division champion Guardians have ridden the unlikeliest of heroes to two key wins this week as they try to catch the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
Time is running out, but the Guardians’ timing in signing 35-year-old Kole Calhoun was perfect.
Calhoun was the hero in two of Cleveland’s biggest wins of the season this week as the Guardians attempt to win their division for the fifth time in the last eight years.
Providing the spark this week has been Calhoun, who is playing for his fourth organization this season. On Sunday in Toronto, Calhoun broke a 6-6 tie in the 11th inning with a two-run, tie-breaking double in what became a 10-6 Cleveland win.
Wednesday in Minnesota, Calhoun rode to the rescue again by breaking a 2-2 tie in the 10th inning by slugging a two-out, 433-foot three-run home run to lift Cleveland to a 5-2 victory.
“Two games on this trip turn into two wins because of his two swings,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona. “There’s a lot of trust in him and he proved us right.”
The Guardians acquired Calhoun in a cash deal with the Dodgers on August 4. He began the 2023 season in spring training with Seattle, but was released by the Mariners at the end of spring training.
He spent most of this season playing for the Triple-A affiliates of the Yankees and Dodgers, hitting a combined .297 with nine home runs and 46 RBI. The Guardians took a flyer on him, and they’re glad they did.
Calhoun spent most of his career with the Angels, who drafted him in the eighth round of the 2010 major league draft, and for whom he hit 33 home runs in 2019, and 26 in 2015. Last year he hit .196 in 388 at bats with Texas, and his career seemed to be flickering.
But with the Guardians he’s getting regular playing time, hitting in the middle of the order, and producing. He’s got 15 RBI in 20 games, and he’s played a big part in Cleveland winning two out of three games at Toronto and at Minnesota.
“There’s a lot of trust in him and he’s proved us right,” said Francona.
Asked following the win on Wednesday about his team refusing to give up, on the division race, Francona never missed a beat. “They’re not allowed,” he said. “But I love that in this group. It’s part of what makes this fun.”
“Winning a series against a team we’re trailing is definitely huge,” said Calhoun after the win over the Twins on Wednesday. We played some good baseball. I like where we’re at, hopefully we can ride this momentum into next week.”
Cleveland’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. In the homestand that starts Friday they will play three games with Tampa Bay and then three with the Twins.
The Guardians’ starting rotation has been decimated by injuries this season, to the point that they’ve been using a rotation that includes three rookies: Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, and Logan Allen. All three have performed well, although Williams left Tuesday’s game with a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Francona has dropped some hints that he may retire at the end of this season after an 11-year run as Cleveland’s manager, during which he has won three American League Manager of the Year awards, four division titles, and one American League pennant.
The Guardians have three games left this season with Minnesota, and during Francona’s 11 years as Cleveland’s manager the Guardians’ record against the Twins is 103-88.