CLEVELAND (AP) — Josh Naylor’s playoff “baby” has grown into something beyond his expectations.
Cleveland’s fiery first baseman insisted he didn’t taunt New York pitcher Gerrit Cole or the Yankees during his thrilling home run celebration in Game 4 of the American League Division Series in last season’s playoffs.
That’s when he circled first base after the catch, swinging his arms playfully like he was rocking a baby, and seemed to yell vulgarity at Cole. Three months later, Naylor said his gesture was meant to motivate his teammates.
“I’ve been doing it all year, but maybe not as aggressively as I was out there,” Naylor said Saturday at the Guards Festival in Cleveland. “It’s more about getting these guys fired. I think the media made it look like I was taking him (Cole) directly.
“I was doing it off the bench and I really wanted to motivate my guys because we won that series.”
Asked if he regretted his actions, Naylor initially said “maybe.” Not only did the Yankees win Game 4 in Cleveland and even the series, but the AL East champions beat the Guardians 5-1 in Game 5 to advance to the ALCS.
During the final game, Naylor was taunted by Yankees fans with “Who’s your daddy?” New York second baseman Gleyber Torres controlled Naylor by mimicking his “baby” moves during the Yankees’ postgame celebration.
Naylor had other moments of unbridled emotion last season as he helped the Guardians, who own the youngest team in baseball, win 92 games. He trash-talked fans in Chicago after the final inning of a major, slamming his helmet into an air defense wall at times. Naylor headbutted Cleveland coach Terry Francona’s glasses after hitting a home run against Minnesota in May.
Naylor said he doesn’t have any personal opinions about Cole or the “phenomenal” Yankees. He also understood that his celebrations were not welcomed in Cleveland as they were in New York.
“I just wanted to energize these guys a little bit and let us know how, somehow, to win,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s just about keeping these guys going. Like, we can do this.”
It’s unlikely New York fans will speak to Naylor about the past when he travels to Yankee Stadium in the future.
In a way, Guardian pitcher Triston McKenzie thought Naylor’s “Baby” celebration upset the Yankees: “It’s crazy that you (Yankees) won that game, you guys won that game. A game. Rock us baby, we’re still rent-free in your head.
“For me, if we have that much impact on them and we lose, I can’t wait for this year.”
Then Mackenzie clapped his hands.
“I can not wait.”
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