CLEVELAND (AP) — Nobody plays them as close as the Guardians, baseball's tightrope walkers.
Shane Bieber worked into the seventh inning, Amed Rosario hit a three-run double and closer Emmanuel Clase survived another stress-filled ninth inning as Cleveland won its MLB-high 23rd one-run game, 4-3 over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.
The Guardians are 10-13 in one-run games, and hope the experience helps them for the long haul.
“When we come out on the positive end of it, it obviously builds character in a positive way,” said Bieber, who threw 108 pitches. “And when we don’t, you try and twist it in your favor and be better for it. We’ll mix in some routs here and there, but ultimately the goal is to play playoff baseball to go deep to win the last game of the season.
“So when you do that against great teams, great lineups, you expect close games. So to be good in those is important.”
Bieber (4-3) didn’t have his best stuff, but the right-hander got some run support for baseball's lowest-scoring squad while limiting the Cardinals to two sacrifice flies.
Rosario’s bases-clearing double in Cleveland's four-run fifth — a rare big inning for the scuffling AL Central champs — came off St. Louis rookie Matthew Liberatore (1-1).
Bieber allowed two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings before being pulled after walking two in the seventh. He's 9-1 in his career against NL Central teams.
Trevor Stephan replaced Bieber and gave up a walk to load the bases, but the right-hander buckled down and got DH Nolan Gorman to foul out and end the seventh, preserving Cleveland's two-run lead.
Enyel De Los Santos cleaned up a mess left by Stephan in the eighth by getting a double play.
The Guardians then turned to Clase, who hasn't been himself this season. He gave up a one-out RBI double to Lars Nootbaar before striking out Paul Goldschmidt and Gorman, who took a called third strike, for his MLB-leading 17th save in 22 chances.
“They’re versatile and they like to pitch,” manager Terry Francona said of his bullpen. “Those are good qualities.”
Nolan Arenado and Alec Burleson hit sacrifice flies for the Cardinals, who are 13-6 since May 7.
Making just his second start this year, Liberatore held the light-hitting Guardians, who entered the series last or near last in every offensive category, to just an infield single by Mike Zunino in the third inning.
However, the left-hander helped ignite Cleveland's big fifth by hitting Andrés Giménez leading off. Zunino and Myles Straw hit singles to load the bases.
Steven Kwan's RBI single made it 1-0 before Rosario ripped his double into the left-field corner to give the Guardians some breathing room. It was just fifth time this season Cleveland has scored four runs or more in an inning.
“It didn’t look like a bad pitch, breaking ball down that he stayed on it,” Francona said. “We’ll take it. We haven’t bunched runs together like that, so that was welcome.”
Kwan robbed Arenado with a leaping catch against the wall in left leading off the eighth, and then nearly caught Nootbaar's drive in the ninth while crashing into the padding.
“Almost knocked himself out,” Francona said of Kwan, who won a Gold Glove as a rookie last season.
The Cardinals have played just 14 games in Cleveland's Progressive Field. The only ballparks they've visited less are Yankee Stadium (6), Oakland Coliseum (8), Camden Yards (9), Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre (11), Seattle's T-Mobile Park and Minneapolis' Target Field and Metrodome (12).
Despite their offensive struggles, the Guardians came in with the fewest strikeouts (351) in the majors. Cleveland is also first in the AL and third in MLB with a 23% swing-and-miss rate. Only Washington (21.7) and Arizona (22.2) are better.
Cardinals: Switch-hitting OF Dylan Carlson (sprained left ankle) took swings from the right side Friday and the club hopes he'll do so from the left and begin running in the next few days. Carlson hurt his ankle when his cleat got caught in the dirt at Fenway Park on May 14. ... RHP Jake Woodford (shoulder inflammation) threw a bullpen session and could be nearing a rehab assignment.
Guardians: RHP Aaron Civale (strained oblique) will make his third rehab start at Triple-A Columbus on Sunday. It's possible Civale could be activated and return to the rotation next week. ... The team was planning the next steps for RHP Triston McKenzie (shoulder strain) following his latest rehab appearance on Thursday — four runs, six hits, six strikeouts in 6 1 /3 innings (68 pitches) for Columbus.
Cardinals RHP Jack Flaherty (3-4, 5.29 ERA) makes his first start in Cleveland against Guardians rookie RHP Tanner Bibee (1-1, 3.18).
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