Just getting Jose Ramirez back in the lineup was a morale boost for the Cleveland Indians. His performance in the return was on another level entirely.
Carson Fulmer looked like he was cruising through the first inning of Tuesday night’s meeting between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
He had struck out Francisco Lindor to start the game, then induced a pop-up to Oscar Mercado. A quick dispatching of Carlos Santana would have kept his pitch count low enough that Chicago could have sent him back to the mound for the second.
Santana drew a customary four-pitch walk to extend the inning. Yasiel Puig followed him with a 10-pitch at-bat that ended on a single to right. Jordan Luplow walked on five pitches, loading the bases.
It was around ball two to Luplow that you started to think: Could you imagine?
When Luplow drew the free pass, Jose Ramirez strutted to the plate for the first time in exactly one month. The stage was set.
It was encouraging enough to see Ramirez display patience early in the count. With the chance to drive in multiple runs in his first plate appearance in 30 days, one could have forgiven him for being overly aggressive. But he took the first four pitches, working his way to a 3-1 count.
He didn’t miss on the fifth one. Fulmer served up a fastball right where Ramirez wanted it, and Ramirez put it over the right field fence. The young man had broken his hand a month earlier, and had subsequently been told his season was probably over. So naturally, in his first plate appearance back, he launched a grand slam.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Couldn’t have scripted it any better. You can’t make this stuff up.
These and about a half-dozen other sports-moment cliches were trending in Northeast Ohio as Ramirez trotted around the bases at his usual business-like pace, and the game of baseball just has a way of providing us with reasons to use them.
The Indians took their biggest and most magical 4-0 lead of the 2019 season, and they would not permit the White Sox to show any signs of life the rest of the way.
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All 11 of Cleveland’s runs would cross the plate on homers. Ramirez padded his RBI total with a comically far, three-run blast on the first pitch of his second plate appearance–a ball so obviously destined for the seats in left field that Puig threw his hands up in awe on the base path as it passed over his head.
In case Ramirez’s seven RBIs on his first two swings of a bat in 30 days were not impressive enough, he hit his home runs from both sides of the plate. The grand slam came against the righty Fulmer, while lefty Hector Santiago was responsible for the second.
Roberto Perez sandwiched a solo shot of his own in between Ramirez’s bombs, while Oscar Mercado put the finishing touches on the rout with the Tribe’s second three-run job in the fifth.
Terry Francona took advantage of the lopsided score to rest his regulars the rest of the way, intermittently substituting for his starting position players in the final four innings.
Ramirez and the offense were so dominant that one could almost forget Mike Clevinger logged seven shutout innings and struck out 10. Chicago is tied for the second-highest team wRC+ in the month of September at 116, but Clevinger was having none of it.
Shane Bieber will look to pick up where Clevinger left off on Wednesday.
Puig and Mercado, both of whom have played a crucial role in keeping the Indians offense going this month, remained effective. Puig reached base in all four of his plate appearances, while Mercado made his one hit count with the home run.
The story of the night, of course, is Ramirez. Forget about cautious optimism or hoping for the best after a long layoff. He is back, and the Indians are 1-0 with five to go. They’re back at it on Wednesday at the same time, same place, and hopefully with the same result.