New (Guardiac) Kids On The Block take care of business, eye AL Central title

CHICAGO — It was a rookie night for the Guardians on Thursday. That meant much of MLB’s newest team’s 28-man roster had to don orange prison uniforms in preparation for the team’s charter flight to Texas to play the Rangers on Friday night.

What happened at Guaranteed Rate Field just hours before this annual ritual meant much more to the organization.

The Guadians completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox with a 4-2 victory to take a seven-game lead in the AL Central. Their fourth win in a row and 15th in September brought their magic number down to five.

On September 9 the Guardians began a stretch of the schedule that included eight games against the Twins and four against the White Sox. The Guards held a 1 1/2 game lead over the Twins and White Sox at the time. As they boarded the charter flight to Texas Thursday night, they not only had a seven-game lead over the White Sox, but a 10-game lead over the Twins.

They went 10-2 in those 12 games to dispatch their closest opponents.

“This was a big streak to come in here and make a statement, especially in Game 1,” said Shane Bieber, who pitched 7 2/3 innings for his fourth straight win Thursday. “Then we had a kind of statement game on Wednesday and tonight as well.

“We were able to feel the emotion within our team and the other team as well. We were trying to get our foot in the throat and finish it off. I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”

Cleveland won Tuesday night 10-7 in 11 innings. The White Sox knew they had to win this game and were never the same after that loss. They beat a lackluster opponent 8-2 on Wednesday before completing the sweep on Thursday.

“We knew those last two series against Minnesota and Chicago were big series,” right-hander Trevor Stephan said. “We wanted to take care of business.”

Consider it done.

Strefan relieved Bieber with two outs and Moncada on second in the eighth. He struck out Jose Abreu, accounting for the effort, to end the inning. Emmanuel Clase retired the White Sox with a run in the ninth for his 37th save.

“Honestly, this is a new experience for a lot of us,” Stephan said. “That was an experience. Playing with everyone and trying to win the division was a lot of fun.”

Stephan may not know what the postseason holds, but he has an idea what it would be like to face an offense like Cleveland’s because he gets to watch it every night.

“Trying to deal with that kind of onslaught wears you down,” he said. “They grind the at-bats, they get the extra base. How many times have we gone from first to third in this series? Watching from the bullpen, it’s a great sight. We just took the extra base and made them pay for everything. It was fun to watch.”

As for the guys in the orange jump suits, the rookies go through that every year. Catchers Luke Maile and Austin Hedges were the ring leaders. But in a photo posted on the Guardians Twitter page, some of the organ-clad Guardians had passed the rookie mark.

Players like Nick Sandlin, Eli Morgan, Sam Henges, Owen Miller and Amed Rosario are no longer considered rookies. Rosario, for example, is in his fifth year in the big leagues. Who knows, maybe they just like the color orange or were getting an early start on Halloween.

It can also be an example of kids just being kids and having fun. Bieber, for one, believes the energy created by having so many young players on the team — 16 players made their major league debuts this season — is the reason the Guardians are closing in on a division title.

“I think it’s the driving force. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a big thing,” he said. “We’re just continuing to have fun and have a steady energy.

“It’s just a good place to come every day through the ups and downs of a whole season. He opens his eyes. Everyone strives for it. But it’s hard to build a team that actually does it. I think this is where we got to and we don’t want it to end. So let’s continue.”

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