CLEVELAND -- Temporary Indians manager DeMarlo Hale was counting how many batters it would take to get to José Ramírez in the bottom of the seventh.
With Franmil Reyes on the injured list, Ramírez’s bat has become even more important than before. And when the Indians are in desperate need of a run, there’s no one else the team would want at the plate than Ramírez. So, when he launched the high fly ball into right field with the bases loaded and one out to give the Indians a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Blue Jays in Game 2 of Sunday’s doubleheader at Progressive Field, it was no surprise.
“One of the decisions that I went with [was] pinch-hitting [Bradley] Zimmer, because I saw [Toronto reliever Tyler Chatwood] struggling against lefties,” Hale said. "And I said, 'Look, if I can get back to the top of the order with [Cesar] Hernandez being a lefty, and [Amed] Rosario -- he's had some good at-bats --you never know if we can get to José.' And sure enough, it did.”
The Indians needed some momentum heading into a crucial four-game series against the White Sox on Monday, and it looked like that would be nearly impossible after a 4-1 loss in the matinee and a slow start in Game 2, being held scoreless through the first five frames. But then, four hits, a walk, an error and a groundout in the sixth knotted the game.
“I heard some conversations in the dugout that were very positive, you know, 'Let's have good at-bats. Let's keep grinding,'” Hale said. “And then they came through [in] that sixth inning when we pushed four across and tied it.”
After the Blue Jays regained the lead in the top of the seventh, Chatwood recorded a quick flyout before he issued four consecutive walks on 19 pitches to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh before Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo decided to pull him.
“For us to be good, Chatwood needs to do the job,” Montoyo said, explaining his decision to stick with the righty for so many batters after [he lost] the strike zone. “He needs to be the reliever he has been. You’ve got to give him a chance to regroup and do the job, get a double-play job or something. He just couldn’t do it. That’s two straight bad outings, but we need him. That’s a fact. He was our best reliever for the first two months.”
“Well you've heard the saying it can get contagious, but I think also the players realize there was a little struggle to throw a strike,” Hale said. “They shrunk the strike zone and met the situation we were going through in the game at that time. That's part of growing and understanding the game, and trying to put yourself in the best position to have some success and have good at-bats, so it was good to see for sure.”
With the bases loaded and Anthony Castro on the rubber, Ramírez was the hero once again, recording his sixth career walk-off plate appearance with a sacrifice fly to right field.
“At that time, I was looking just to put the ball in play, and we were lucky this time that something good happened,” Ramírez said. “That’s what I tried to do in that situation: Try to put the ball in play.”
As Ramírez sprinted away from teammate Josh Naylor, who was carrying a cooler full of water, ice and Gatorade bottles ready to dump on Ramírez, the Indians found themselves in a position to not only celebrate the victory, but to also celebrate the position they’ve put themselves in as they face their second consecutive doubleheader on Monday -- the first time the club has played back-to-back doubleheaders since September 2000.
Because Aaron Civale worked six-plus innings in Sunday’s matinee, the team only had to use Phil Maton for a frame in Game 1, before Nick Wittgren, Trevor Stephan and Emmanuel Clase each worked a frame in Game 2. Outside of Jean Carlos Mejía, who threw 1 2/3 frames in the second matchup, the rest of the bullpen should be in good shape heading into Monday. And the offense will look to build on the momentum it created in the come-from-behind victory Sunday evening.
“It's positive,” Hale said. “It's a good sign that these guys are not giving up -- even in situations where you're down four, five runs, they're still grinding. That's just a compliment to these players. We're pushing this as an organization, to play the game [the] right way and compete to the last out. It was very good. I'm very pleased with the effort.”