Ramirez Blasts Walk-Off, Playoff-Clinching Homer in Tenth; Indians 5, Sox 3
Bob Toth | On 22, Sep 2020
In one of the most anticlimactic playoff pursuits in the 120-year history of the Cleveland Indians franchise, Jose Ramirez found a way to make it a little extra special on Tuesday night. Ramirez’s three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning capped a four-run frame and sent the Indians home a 5-3 walk-off winner on Tuesday night, reducing the team’s magic number for a postseason berth to zero in memorable fashion.
The Indians fell behind two runs in the top of the tenth inning as the White Sox knocked in a pair against reliever Phil Maton to break a 1-1 tie. Designated runner James McCann opened the inning at second and watched as Maton won an eight-pitch exchange with Luis Robert, punching out the young star for out number one. Adam Engel, better known for his defensive work than his bat, worked the count full before driving the seventh pitch of his at bat to the gap for an RBI-triple, putting the White Sox on top for the first time on the night, 2-1. Nick Madrigal singled through the pulled in infield to score Engel to make it 3-1 before Maton got out of the inning.
Had fans been in the park, the top half of the inning would have likely sucked the air out of the stadium on a night filled with potential with the Indians just one win (or Seattle Mariners loss) away from returning to the postseason via the expanded format utilized this year. Hope remained from the players present, however, as the Indians pulled some of that old Progressive Field magic out of their caps.
Roberto Perez started the inning at second with reliever Matt Foster on the mound for the White Sox. He got Josh Naylor to pop to short before striking out Delino DeShields on a heater for two quick outs, leaving it looking all the more likely that their would be no celebrations in downtown Cleveland on Tuesday.
Down to their final out with the lineup turned over, Francisco Lindor saw the count go to 3-1 before sending a deep drive to center and pausing to admire his work. Robert leapt at the wall but just missed making the catch, allowing Perez to score on Lindor’s two-base hit (which could have been more had Lindor ran hard out of the box instead of pimping his shot). Cesar Hernandez, responsible for the other Indians run on the night, walked on five fastballs all over the place from Foster to send him to first as the potential tying run with Ramirez stepping into the batter’s box. Chicago went to the bullpen for right-hander Jose Ruiz, making his fifth appearance of the season. He fell behind Ramirez, 2-1, before the Tribe third baseman fouled off two pitches. He then got his favorite pitches of all the known pitches, the “Home Run Pitch”, digging out a 98 MPH fastball at the bottom of the zone and driving the 108 stitches deep into the vacant right field seats for a walk-off, two-out, three-run home run to send the Indians not only to victory, but to the playoffs.
“Once I hit it, I knew it was a home run because I got it right on the barrel,” said Ramirez through the team’s interpreter. “There was a lot less champagne than usual, but it was still a good celebration.”
With a second straight victory this week over the White Sox (34-21), the Indians (31-24) have pulled within three games of Chicago for the top spot in the division with five games remaining on the 2020 schedule, including two more head-to-head matchups in the coming days. The Indians trail second-place Minnesota by two and a half, while the Twins are now just a half-game out of first place in the American League Central due to a perfectly-timed three-game winning streak that coincides with the White Sox’s currently three-game bender.
The heroics became necessary as both teams were limited to solo home runs through regulation. Hernandez put the Indians up 1-0 nine pitches into the home half of the first with a 420-foot blast to right off of Reynaldo Lopez, but the offense was unable to find the scoreboard until much, much later on in the night.
Cal Quantrill started a bullpen game for the Tribe. He gave up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson in the first before erasing him on a double play to end the inning. He allowed a one-out walk to Edwin Encarnacion in the second, stranding him at second on a pair of grounders in the infield. He ended his night with eight straight retired, keeping the White Sox scoreless through four innings in his second start of the season and his first for Cleveland.
Lopez walked the line, but prevented the Indians from tacking on further in the early and middle innings. He allowed Franmil Reyes to reach to start the bottom of the second with a single, but he got Tyler Naquin to ground into a double play to make easy work of the frame. He walked a pair in the third, but Ramirez flied to right with two outs to leave them both on base. He struck out two in a perfect fourth and got out of a one-out jam in the fifth after Perez reached on error and DeShields reached on a perfect bunt towards first with one out, but Lindor and Hernandez each flied out to Eloy Jimenez to leave two more on the base paths.
Adam Plutko took over for Quantrill in the top of the fifth, pitching into and out of trouble. Encarnacion laced a double past Ramirez into the left field corner. McCann walked before Robert struck out looking for the first out. Nomar Mazara loaded the bases with a single to left, but Madrigal grounded back to Plutko, who started the 1-2-3 double play to escape harm.
The White Sox skipped run manufacturing and turned to the big fly in the sixth to tie the game. Plutko retired the first two hitters, but saw his count go from 0-2 to 3-2 to Jose Abreu. He went to the slider on the payoff pitch and Abreu went with the offering, driving it the opposite way to right for his 19th homer of the season, tying the game at one all. Plutko returned for the seventh, retiring the side in order with a strikeout of Robert.
Codi Heuer pitched a pair of innings for the White Sox, giving up a single to Reyes with six otherwise quiet outs. Oliver Perez did his part out of the Indians bullpen in the eighth, getting three straight line outs to DeShields in center, including an impressive sliding catch to rob the pinch-hitter Engel of likely extra bases.
The Indians took their first look at rookie 6’6” left-hander Garrett Crochet in the bottom of the eighth, looking to break through against the 21-year-old 2020 first round pick. He got back-to-back groundouts from Lindor and Hernandez, but plunked Ramirez on a slider after four straight pitches reaching 100 MPH. Carlos Santana struck out swinging on three pitches to send the game to the ninth.
Down to their last hopes before extras, the White Sox threatened against Nick Wittgren. Yoan Moncada flied to left and Abreu struck out swinging for the first two outs, but Jimenez and Encarnacion each singled to put runners on the corners. In one of the biggest at bats of the night, Wittgren got McCann to swing and miss on a 3-2 slider to send the game to the bottom of the ninth.
With their first shot for heroics on the night, the Indians failed, sending three straight ground balls around the infield against Chicago closer Alex Colome, dispersed on just six pitches.
Because baseball stat keeping is funny, Maton earned the win despite coming one out away from taking a loss. He moved to 3-3 on the year after giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits with a pair of strikeouts in the tenth. Quantrill shined in a starting role, giving the Indians something to consider for the years ahead. He worked four shutout innings of one-hit baseball, walking one and striking out four while needing just 38 pitches to get through 12 outs. Plukto allowed the homer to Abreu, but otherwise spared the bullpen excessive work. He allowed a run on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts. O. Perez and Wittgren each worked scoreless frames, with the southpaw (nine pitches versus Wittgren’s 27) needing far less energy to do so.
The Indians won for the fourth time in six tries in extra innings and did so with just their second walk-off win of the year (the other came on September 5 against Milwaukee). They moved to 6-2 against the White Sox this season and have reached the postseason in four of the last five seasons. The Tribe has posted winning records in each of Terry Francona’s seasons at the helm, even if this one has been aided heavily by interim skipper Sandy Alomar Jr.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to do this,” Alomar Jr. said. “I wasn’t expecting to do it this year. I was just doing my job and this happened. It’s a big responsibility, because you’re replacing a Hall of Fame manager. I’m just glad that I have many people that I can lean on and they can help me.”
Lopez threw 85 pitches through five innings, leading to an early exit. He allowed just one run on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Heuer, Crochet (in career game number three), and Colome combined for four shutout innings of relief. Foster was dealt his first loss of the year, charged with three runs (two earned) on one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Ruiz threw six pitches and suffered the blown save with his first run allowed of the season.
Ramirez, suddenly catching eyes as a potential AL Most Valuable Player candidate (along with Abreu) is now hitting .500 (14-for-28) with six home runs and 16 RBI during his active seven-game hitting streak. He went 1-for-4 on the night, needing the at bat in extra innings to extend that streak. He is third in the American League with 17 homers this season and leads the Tribe with 44 RBI.
“He’s probably, I don’t know if you can be underrated as a top-five guy in the league, but if there’s such a thing, he’s underrated,” said Quantrill about his hard-hitting third baseman. “His ability to work a count, to hit pitches that are borderline good pitches, being a switch-hitter…the whole package.”
Reyes led the Tribe with two hits on the night as his bat slowly comes back to life. Lindor, Hernandez, and DeShields each added hits, with the second baseman walking twice and the center fielder reaching once on free pass.
Abreu’s homer was his 19th, giving him an MLB-leading 56 RBI with his only hit of the night. Encarnacion had two hits against his former club.
The White Sox, after going 53 games without an ejection, have had heave-hos on consecutive nights as manager Rick Renteria and the shortstop Anderson were tossed from the contest for their discussion with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez after Robert’s third strikeout of the night in the tenth. Hernandez was quite liberal with his strike zone, as he often tends to do, with some curiously bad glove-side calls early in the game with the zone expanding in all directions for the pitchers as the game went on.
Renteria was also ejected Monday night.
Fans of Major League Baseball will get a glimpse of a potential first round match up on Wednesday, as Shane Bieber (8-1, 1.74 ERA) and Lucas Giolito (4-3, 3.53 ERA) make their final starts of the 2020 regular season in a playoff tune-up. Bieber will make his final push for the American League Cy Young Award in his 12th and final regular season appearance after being bumped back a day from his previously scheduled start on Tuesday night. Giolito has fallen on tougher times of late, allowing three runs or more in each of his last four starts since throwing a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 25.
Game time from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is scheduled for 6:10 PM ET on Wednesday.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images