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by Andy Fledderjohann

Bottom of the eighth inning. Game 7 of the World Series. Two out. One on. Down three runs. Oh and by the way, you’re facing the best closer in Major League Baseball.

There couldn’t be much more of a pressure-packed at bat, but according to former Virginia Baseball standout Brandon Guyer, it was “just like any other situation.”

An outfielder at UVA from 2005-07, Guyer was part of the Cleveland Indians’ magical run to the World Series in 2016 and the fourth Cavalier baseball alum to play in the Fall Classic.

He stepped to the plate late in Game 7 to face Chicago Cubs’ flame-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman with the Indians on the brink of elimination. Guyer could have let the moment get the best of him, but instead thrived in the biggest at bat of his life.

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“I felt so calm and in the moment,” Guyer said. “I did not know how I would react going into that situation, but everything slowed down. I was as locked in as I have ever been, facing him in that moment.”

After falling behind in the count, 1-2, Guyer worked it full before lining a double to right-center to score a run. It set up one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history, a game-tying shot from Rajai Davis.

“I have never had the same kind of emotions run through my body as when I was rounding those bases when we tied it up. It was unbelievable,” Guyer said. “At that moment, I really thought it was meant to be, and we were going to win the World Series.”

Unfortunately for the Indians, the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the 10th inning and held off an Indians’ rally in the bottom of the inning to win an incredible World Series and break their 108-year-old title drought.

“It didn’t happen for us, but being able to be a part of something like that was pretty special,” Guyer said.

The road to reach to the pinnacle of professional baseball has been challenging for Guyer.

Drafted by Chicago in the fifth round in 2007, Guyer spent four years in the minors with the Cubs before being traded to Tampa Bay. He made his big-league debut in May 2011 and homered in his first MLB at bat against the Baltimore Orioles (just the 109th player in MLB history to do so).

He bounced between the minors and the big leagues over the next three seasons and also battled injuries, including missing most of the 2012 season after shoulder surgery, but returned with a vengeance in 2015, playing in a career-high 128 games while batting .265 and leading the American League in hit-by-pitch (he has led Major League Baseball in HBP over the last two seasons).

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All of that set him up for a momentous 2016, and on August 1, he was traded from the last-place Rays to the first-place Indians.

“When they brought me into the coaches’ office, it really caught me off guard and surprised me,” Guyer said. “Initially, it was tough because my family and I were comfortable in St. Petersburg and Tampa, and I loved playing there. But like Coach Mac (UVA’s Kevin McMullan) always said, ‘you have got to become comfortable being uncomfortable.’ It was a little uncomfortable going to Cleveland because it was something completely new in the middle of the season in a pennant race, but I embraced it.

“I went in there just trying to be positive with the situation and not try to do too much but contribute since the team was already doing so well. I knew what my role was going to be. I was really happy that I could do that and be on such a good team and be so close to winning a World Series.”

McMullan and the entire UVA Baseball coaching staff traveled to Cleveland on Nov. 2 and were in the stands for the memorable Game 7 at Progressive Field. To this day, Guyer remains close with the staff.

“When I was playing left field late in the game, their presence gave me a little bit of comfort, just knowing they were there, especially because I knew they were sitting in the left-field area. Every now and again, we will shoot texts throughout the year. When they are doing well throughout the year and going to the tournament and Omaha, I always try to wish them good luck, and they do the same for me. I still have a great relationship with them. They are great guys, great coaches and all-around great people.”

While this year marks 10 years since his last year wearing a Virginia uniform, Guyer credits his coaches and the UVA experience for helping to mold him into the man he is today.

“I came in a young kid, and I feel like I left a man,” Guyer said. “I left with a lot of good qualities of being accountable, being a better teammate and time management. I came in at age 18 and I was not completely mature yet, and still probably did not have the best head on my shoulders, so just being around them and hearing about how to be more accountable, be there for your teammates and how to do whatever it takes to win a game. That kind of stuff was what really stuck with me and helped to make me the person and player that I am today.

“I developed a lot of great relationships with my teammates while there. I would go to battle with them every day and grow as a person in total. Going to UVA is something that I will always be proud of.”

Guyer said he keeps close tabs on the UVA program, particularly through social media. He was among the many Cavalier fans watching earnestly in 2014 and 2015 when UVA advanced to the College World Series Finals, culminating in the Cavaliers’ first national championship in 2015.

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“I was definitely nervous,” Guyer said. “I feel like I was probably more nervous for that then when I played in the World Series, just because I wanted them to do so well. It was great to see all of their hard work pay off. They never gave up. They were knocking on the door, and eventually they knocked that door down and got the championship. It was so awesome to see.”

While all of those associated with the University of Virginia celebrated the Cavaliers’ national championship, it took on a special meaning for Guyer and his fellow baseball alumni.

“There is a lot of pride from the alumni,” Guyer said. “The fact that the same coaching staff that is there now was there when I was there is really cool to see. I would always joke around with my teammates on the Rays on how I hosted those kids [when they came up for visits]. I hosted the recruits that hosted those kids on the team. I always want them to do well. To see it all come to fruition and reach Omaha – 1186 – it is a lot of work in the making, and I could not be more proud to see them come through.”

Photos: Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians