One swing can end a slump in a hurry and the Cleveland Indians will hope that Wednesday night marks such an instance, as Jose Ramirez blasted a no-doubt-about-it two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to send the Tribe home with a 5-3 win.
It was a much needed sight for the Indians and their fans who have been waiting for the perennial MVP candidate to kick out of a skid dating back to the latter months of last season. And the timing could not have been better for the Tribe, as they entered the night with just one run scored and 21 surrendered over the previous 27 innings of work.
It was Jace Fry on the mound for the White Sox for the second straight night to start the bottom of the ninth against pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow. After falling behind 3-0, Fry responded with three straight strikes to set down the leadoff man. Francisco Lindor hung in on a 1-2 pitch and singled to center to put the go-ahead run on the bases. In a left-on-left matchup, Jason Kipnis was retired on a swinging third strike for the second out. Sox manager Rick Renteria retrieved Fry from the mound for hard-throwing right-hander Kelvin Herrera, flipping Ramirez back to the left side of the plate against a familiar foe with whom he had little career success. Before Ramirez had a chance to play the hero, Lindor picked off second base with his second swipe of the year to give his teammate a chance to win it with a base hit. Instead, Ramirez opted for a joyous trot around the bases, crushing a 96 MPH four-seamer into the seats in right with his third home run of the year, defying the strong winds blowing in from right-center throughout the ball game.
The win moved the Indians back to three games above even at 19-16 on the season. Brad Hand earned the victory to move to 2-1 on the year after throwing a scoreless inning of relief in the ninth.
Chicago dropped to 16-19 with the defeat and now trails Cleveland by three games in the American League Central standings for second place. Fry was tagged with his first loss of the year, as the runner that he was responsible for in Lindor scored the winning run.
On the other side of scoreboard, the Indians got another good outing from Shane Bieber, as he pitched into the seventh in a quality start that was tarnished some by a costly pair of runs that tied up the game at three to send him to the showers.
Bieber pitched himself into a little trouble in the first, giving up back-to-back singles to start the game to Yoan Moncada and Nicky Delmonico. A line out by Jose Abreu and a ground ball double play by Yonder Alonso kept the Sox off of the board. Bieber allowed two more to reach in the second, as Charlie Tilson legged out an infield single to short and stole second before he was joined on the bases with two outs on a Yolmer Sanchez walk. Ryan Cordell flied to center to leave them stranded.
Chicago’s Reynaldo Lopez was the beneficiary of the early lead after working around a two-out single by Ramirez the opposite way in the first and a leadoff single by Carlos Gonzalez in the second. Bieber retired the first two batters of the third, but Abreu lofted a fly ball down the right field line that just hooked by the foul pole and over the wall for a 348-foot home run to give the White Sox the lead.
Lopez protected his lead in the third, escaping with a double play after a leadoff single from Tyler Naquin. In the fourth, however, he ran into his first real jam as the Indians put together a rally many days in the making. After Ramirez lined out to start the frame, three straight singles from Carlos Santana, Gonzalez, and Jake Bauers loaded the bases. Leonys Martin tied the game on a fielder’s choice force at second, with Martin reaching first in time to prevent the inning-ending double play that would have negated the run from counting. Kevin Plawecki was plunked by Lopez to reload the bases and Naquin came through with his second hit of the night off of Lopez, slapping a two-run single the opposite way to left to put the Indians up, 3-1.
After the Abreu homer, Bieber retired nine in a row before an infield single by Alonso in the sixth off of the glove of a diving Bauers at first. The young Tribe hurler took care of the rest of the inning, getting Welington Castillo swinging.
The Indians left a pair in the bottom of the sixth, which came up costly the next half inning. Bieber came back out with a healthy pitch count while looking to keep it a two-run game. Two singles by Tilson and Tim Anderson to start the inning put that lead in jeopardy. Sanchez dropped down a sacrifice to move both runners up 90 feet and Cordell delivered a crushing shot, singling back to center. Tilson scored easily and Anderson motored home from second ahead of the offline throw from Martin in center. Oliver Perez relieved for the second-year Bieber and kept the game tied, striking out the hot Moncada before getting Delmonico to pop out to third, stranding the go-ahead run at second base.
Nick Wittgren and Hand handled the rest of the night for the Tribe, with Wittgren giving up a two-out single to Castillo in the eighth but no further damage thanks to a second diving catch of the night by the left fielder Gonzalez. In relief of Lopez for Chicago, Aaron Bummer pitched a perfect seventh and gave up a two-out infield single to Martin in the eighth before ending his outing with his second strikeout of the night.
One night after just two different players reached base safely with hits for the Indians, the offense woke up some with a 12-hit night. Five different players contributed multi-hit efforts, led by Ramirez with a 2-for-5 day to push his batting average up to .205.
“I was thrilled. At that point, because Frankie stole second, it changes a lot,” said manager Terry Francona. “All he has to do is find a hole. But he really put a charge in that. Kip hit is ball early in the game probably as good as he can hit it…Jose really jumped on that ball. And that was a guy, for his career, he hadn’t done much against.”
Ramirez entered the game 1-for-10 in his career against Herrera, but he got a ball up and in and left no doubts. It was the first career walk-off home run for Ramirez and the fourth walk-off hit of his career (his first since September 17, 2016, against Detroit).
Gonzalez, Bauers, Martin, and Naquin each had two singles each, with the latter driving in two key runs in the fourth.
Bieber was in good shape until the seventh inning, when the wheels fell off in a hurry. Entering the inning, he had allowed just a run on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts, but three singles around a sacrifice bunt left him with a quality performance, but no longer in a position to earn a win. He worked six and one-third officially, allowing three runs on eight hits in the no-decision. It was his third straight quality start since his disastrous Easter performance against Atlanta.
“I thought he was really good, and in his last inning, all of a sudden he was up with everything,” said Francona. “And it was happening quick.”
Lopez countered with a quality outing of his own for Chicago, but he came away empty-handed as well. He worked six full frames, allowing three runs on nine hits with a walk and just two strikeouts. Fry took the tough loss, striking out a pair but giving up a single in the ninth, and Herrera lasted just five pitches before Ramirez took him yard.
The two clubs will wrap up the four-game set from Progressive Field in a 1:10 PM ET getaway day start on Thursday. Carlos Carrasco (2-3, 5.60 ERA) will look to lock up a second series split with the White Sox this season, while left-hander Manny Banuelos (2-1, 5.96) will make his fourth start of the season for the White Sox. He allowed nine runs on ten hits in just two and two-thirds innings in his last start on May 4.
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