CLEVELAND -- OK, Indians fans, it’s time for a collective exhale … at least for now.
After the team already watched its injured list grow longer with Shane Bieber and Austin Hedges added to it this week, the last thing it wanted was to include its most dangerous bat on the list. José Ramírez hobbled off the field in the eighth inning of the Indians’ 11-10 loss to the Pirates on Friday night at PNC Park after getting hit in the lower leg with a 78.5 mph slider from righty Kyle Crick. He was diagnosed with just a left foot contusion, and the team expected him to be OK.
“It's one of those things where it kinda got him for a couple of minutes and it was really hurting,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “By the time he got up to the clubhouse, he was doing OK.”
Cleveland’s medical staff evaluated Ramírez after he dropped to his stomach on home plate. After getting to his feet, he limped off the field and went straight into the Indians’ clubhouse, as Ernie Clement replaced him at first base. It’s clear just how crucial Ramírez is to this lineup and losing his bat is certainly not an easy hurdle to overcome. Without a designated hitter in a National League ballpark, the Indians won’t have an option to ease him back into play on Saturday, however, it still wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in the lineup.
His absence on Friday allowed this young roster to prove, once again, how resilient it is. The club almost pulled off the improbable, as a 10-run deficit in the sixth quickly became just a one-run game by the eighth.
“Got my juices going, I'll tell you that,” Francona said of the comeback. “We ask our guys to always continue to play. That's probably the ultimate example. Those are hard games to win, but as you saw, we're one hit away from maybe winning that game. Just keep playing. Sometimes it's ugly, sometimes we make mistakes. But keep playing.”
Although Ramírez started Cleveland’s rally in the seventh with a leadoff walk, the lineup was able to persevere even after his departure. Following his free pass, the Indians loaded the bases, Josh Naylor and René Rivera each knocked in a run on singles and Cesar Hernandez delivered the big blast with his first career grand slam.
“He worked hard to get his bat back in swing mode,” Rivera said of Hernandez. “He's finally showing he can hit and hit with power, too. I'm happy for him. I always root for him, and hopefully he continues to help us score some runs.”
Again, it was up to Ramírez to lead off the eighth. That’s when the third baseman found himself face-first in the dirt, rolling in pain after getting hit by a pitch on his left foot. After he was removed, the Indians once again loaded the bases and Rivera’s single brought home three runs -- one thanks to an error -- to suddenly bring the score within one run.
Clement did his best to continue this next-man-up mentality the Indians have tried to adapt over the last few weeks, prolonging the ninth inning with a pair of one-out singles, but with runners on second and third, the Indians came up 90 feet short of completing the comeback when Bobby Bradley struck out to end the game.
And even though the efforts won’t be reflected in the win column, the club thinks there was still plenty to take away from the performance.
“I think, the guys here, we're resilient, man,” Rivera said. “We're going to go out there and battle inning by inning. I'm not so happy that we didn't win today, but at least we scored and we gave you a ballgame. We gave a hard, tough game to them. We know we can come back and win. I'm happy for the guys here and hopefully tomorrow we can be on the other side.”