Luplow's walk-off a 'fire-starter' for Cleveland

April 27th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- Can hit right-handers? Well, he’s certainly putting together a convincing case that he absolutely can, and the timing couldn’t have been better for the Indians.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Luplow launched a two-run homer to lift the Indians to a 5-3 victory over the Twins on Monday night at Progressive Field. It marked Luplow’s second career walk-off plate appearance (both homers), with the other coming on Sept. 23, 2020, against the White Sox.

“It definitely feels good, and you get to admire it for a little bit,” Luplow said. “Yeah, it’s a good feeling, I’ll tell you that.”

The one thing Indians fans have learned over the past two seasons with Luplow is that he mashes left-handed pitching. Since the start of the 2018 season, he’s recorded a 1.008 OPS against southpaws, which ranks eighth among all MLB hitters in that span (minimum of 250 plate appearances) entering Monday night. There was never a question why his bat was so high in the order if a lefty was on the mound, but leaving him there against a righty caused some eyebrows to raise early in the year.

At the end of the 2019 season, Luplow stood in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, explaining that he was out to prove he was more than a platoon hitter, as his teammates packed up their equipment around him after missing the playoffs for the first time in four years. It may have taken some time for him to prove it, but it seems safe to say he’s reached that point.

• Luplow vs. righties in 2019: 54 games, one homer, eight RBIs, .216 average, .573 OPS
• Luplow vs. lefties in 2019: 68 games, 14 homers, 30 RBIs, .320 average, 1.181 OPS

• Luplow vs. righties in 2021: nine games, three homers, eight RBIs, .263 average, 1.142 OPS
• Luplow vs. lefties in 2021: 12 games, three homers, six RBIs, .207 average, .913 OPS

“He’s making a case that he needs to play more,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and I don’t want to be the one to get in the way of that, so we’ll let him keep going.”

So what’s changed for Luplow to finally start showing what he can do, despite who’s on the mound?

“I want to say it’s my mentality,” Luplow said. “Going into this year I definitely changed it. I definitely wanted to show the real player I am against righties, lefties or whoever is pitching. Just mentally showing up to [Spring Training] ready to go and competing every at-bat. Just putting together good at-bats for the team and collecting some wins.”

The win the Indians picked up on Monday night was essential after the club got off to a four-game losing streak in its week-long homestand. The season is all but a month old, but the offense has already found its way into some deep valleys. Each time that’s happened, the lineup seems to turn to José Ramírez or Franmil Reyes to bring the spark. And while Ramírez did just that once again on Monday in the bottom half of the eighth inning, smacking the game-tying blast that eventually forced extra innings, Luplow wanted to show that those two aren’t the only players who can deliver in the big moments.

“[Luplow] is meant for the occasion,” said Josh Naylor, who went 3-for-4. “He doesn't back down from pressure. I'm thankful for him. He's such an awesome player. We're just going to carry this momentum to the next few games and hopefully come out with a few more W’s and win games. That's all that matters.”

A win is a win in the record books, but when a team has been desperately searching for some momentum, an extra-innings, walk-off victory could bring the jolt of energy the clubhouse has needed.

“I know for our offense, it’s been a struggle not getting some of the results we deserve,” Luplow said, “but something like that and what Josey did tonight and Naylor and some of the other guys, I think if we keep that rolling, it’s going to be good. It’s definitely a fire-starter, that’s for sure.”