CLEVELAND -- “Honestly, I swear on my kids, I went there almost like hoping they'd walk José,” said Franmil Reyes, who just wanted to get in the batter’s box.
There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied and José Ramírez coming up to the plate. The Royals could’ve chosen to face the All-Star but decided to intentionally walk him to get to Reyes, which is exactly what he wanted. Two pitches later, Reyes lifted the Indians to a walk-off 7-4 victory on a three-run homer Thursday night at Progressive Field.
“I was like, 'Please, walk him. Give me this shot. I want it,'” Reyes said. “And I get a pitch, there it is.”
It’d been a long week and a half for the Indians. The team was still carrying a nine-game losing streak and was in desperate need of a spark to get some momentum back in its favor. It seemed like Roberto Pérez provided the answer with a go-ahead three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning, but a familiar face in former Indian Carlos Santana launched his second homer of the night off James Karinchak in the ninth to knot the score at 4.
The Indians took the lead for all of a few minutes before the wind was knocked out of their sails. A hush fell over the crowd and it seemed as though the team was going to reach its first 10-game losing streak since 2012. But Reyes was confident he wasn’t going home without a win.
“When I see Carlos hitting the homer,” Reyes said, “I told myself, 'If I get up to hit, I'm going to be the one. I'm going to do this for my team.' Like, it's something unbelievable.”
Cesar Hernandez put himself in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out double to right. After an Amed Rosario strikeout, the Royals played right into Reyes’ plan by gifting Ramírez first base to bring Reyes up to the plate.
“You got to pick your poison,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve had one guy do it to us too many times. There’s still another open base, you just hate to make a mistake while having first base open. … It’s a tough out. They both are. They made us pay today.”
Reyes made them pay with a 435-foot bomb to left-center field that ended with a water bottle shower at home plate. It marked his third consecutive game with a long ball and first walk-off homer since Aug. 30, 2018, as a member of the Padres against his now-teammate Bryan Shaw, who was then with the Rockies.
The blast turned momentum slightly back in the Indians’ favor after a frustrating stretch. But the homer also proved just how badly the team missed Reyes’ bat over the four weeks he was sidelined with an internal oblique strain. In five games since returning from the injured list, Reyes is hitting .381 with three homers and nine RBIs.
With Reyes and Pérez back in the lineup and starter Zach Plesac, who made his first start since going on the injured list with a fractured thumb, back on the rubber on Thursday, the team is taking steps toward getting back to full strength. There are still a handful of missing pieces -- crucial ones like Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale -- but the club got a glimpse of what its reality could be as more of its everyday players return to the active roster. And now, Cleveland is looking to turn momentum back in its favor with the losing skid in the rearview mirror.
“We’re not giving up, man,” Pérez said. “We had a tough stretch, nine games. I think last year we lost eight straight I think, and then we won nine out of 11. I’m not worried about our team. I think everybody -- if you look at Kansas City early in the year, I don’t know how many straight they lost and they were in first place. It’s a long season. It’s a matter of staying composed and coming to the ballpark ready to play the next game. But I think our guys tonight did a pretty good job. Hopefully we build from this one.”