CLEVELAND (AP) — The Guardians’ consensus top prospect, right-hander Gavin Williams, made his much-awaited major league debut Wednesday.
His battery-mate wound up stealing the spotlight.
Rookie catcher Bo Naylor singled for his first big-league hit, then scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a throwing error in Cleveland’s 7-6 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night.
Naylor snapped an 0-for-19 drought with a sharp single off Austin Pruitt (1-5) and came home on Steven Kwan’s one-out double. Myles Straw was the first to score on Kwan’s hit, which turned into a two-run play when right fielder by Ramón Laureano wildly flung the ball back to the infield.
“Getting my first hit at a very intense time in the game is something I’ll never forget,” Naylor said, smiling broadly. “It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. That was my moment, I guess.”
When Naylor ran into the dugout after scoring, his older brother, Josh, was waiting for him. The elder Naylor, by two years, went 4 for 4 with a home run, two RBIs and a giant bear hug for Bo.
“It was great to embrace him after I scored,” Bo Naylor said. “I felt really special because he’s such an amazing brother.”
Until Naylor’s late heroics, right-hander Williams was the main attraction. Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2021 out of East Carolina worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits — all in the third — and struck out four.
The right-hander maxed out at 98 mph, topping 96 on 18 of his 84 pitches, and did not surrender a hit in five of the six innings that he was on the mound.
“It helped an unbelievable amount having Bo out there, I mean, he knows me,” Williams said. “He knows how my pitches move and everything, so it was awesome. I wish I could have been out there in the eighth, but it was amazing seeing it on TV in the clubhouse.”
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Williams went 9-6 with a 2.10 ERA in 37 minor league starts between Single-A Lake County, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He was 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine starts this season with Columbus.
Eli Morgan (3-1) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win and Emmanuel Clase finished for his MLB-leading 22nd save. Cleveland won its third straight and is a game behind first-place Minnesota in the AL Central.
“The whole night was encouraging,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “There’s a lot to talk about and I thought Gavin did a really good job varying his times to the plate. I asked him when he came out, ‘Do you have a heartbeat?’ He goes, ‘Oh, yeah,’ so for him to control what he controlled was good.”
The Athletics, who have the lowest batting average and highest ERA in the majors, lost their seventh in a row and have the worst record in baseball at 19-57. Ryan Noda hit a three-run homer as part of a four-run third inning that opened the scoring.
Oakland had taken a 6-4 lead in the seventh on run-scoring singles from rookie Esteury Ruiz and Seth Brown off Trevor Stephan. Ruiz went 3 for 5 with two RBIs and stole two bases to increase his MLB-best total to 39.
“The offense got us the lead and unfortunately, we were unable to hold onto it,” Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said. “Tito (Francona) fights and his team plays the game the same way, fighting for everything they get.”
Cleveland cut it 4-3 in the bottom half when Bo Naylor, Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario reached to open the third and came around. Rosario and Andrés Giménez each drove in runs, while a fielding error by Laureano allowed Kwan to score.
Josh Naylor’s solo homer pulled the Guardians within 6-5 in the seventh.
The Guardians’ top three pitching prospects have made their big league debuts this season in Williams, RHP Tanner Bibee and LHP Logan Allen. With 2020 AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber in the final year of his contract and likely to be traded, the rookies’ development is paramount.
“For us to remain competitive, we need to produce these pitchers because that’s the one thing we probably can’t go out and get,” Francona said. “You see what they get on the (free agent) market, so we’ve got to stay in our lane and develop starting pitching.”
Athletics: RHP Zach Jackson (right flexor strain) was transferred to the 60-day injured list in order to clear a 40-man roster spot for RHP Angel Felipe, who was claimed off waivers from San Diego. Kotsay said Jackson has not suffered a setback.
Guardians: OF Will Brennan (left shoulder soreness) exited in the fifth inning, shortly after landing hard on his left side while making a diving catch on a liner by Jace Peterson. Brennan was in obvious pain after getting up from the grass.
Athletics LHP JP Sears (1-4, 4.24 ERA) takes on Guardians LHP Logan Allen (3-2, 3.95 ERA) in the series finale Thursday.