CLEVELAND -- The image of José Ramírez stumbling as he raced toward an unmanned third base, diving and laying his head on the bag like a pillow out of exhaustion and partial befuddlement is the perfect summation of the Indians’ strange 8-7 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Indians manager Terry Francona has said all season long that this team knows it may not have the prettiest wins every single night, but the one thing the skipper has emphasized is the importance of his team doing the little things like hustling on the bases. And that’s exactly what Ramírez did.
With Cleveland trailing 3-2 in the third and runners on second and third, Ramírez served a 104.4 mph single into right field to easily plate both runners. But as the throw came in from the outfield, Ramírez made an aggressive decision to head to second base. After the throw was cut off, he was stuck between first and second and it looked like he was a guaranteed out.
“I'm not sure he probably should have been going to second,” Francona said. “He might have gotten a little carried away there, but once that happened, his clock is incredible.”
Here’s how Ramírez navigated trouble. After first baseman Trey Mancini cut off the throw from the outfield, he tossed the ball to shortstop Freddy Galvis, who was covering second. He took a few steps to force Ramírez to head back toward first before throwing the ball to second baseman Pat Valaika, who was standing in front of first base. Ramírez pivoted to try to escape trouble, heading back toward second and realized no one was covering the bag. When he was a few steps ahead of Galvis, there was no one stopping him from getting to second.
“The rundown originally was between first and second, so [backstop Pedro Severino] did a nice job getting to first base,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “When we cut the ball, we need to follow our throw there so there is another guy at second base. If we see second base vacant, then a corner guy needs to get there.”
But Ramírez wanted more. A moment after diving safely into second base, avoiding disaster in what became a five-run frame, he realized no one was manning third. Orioles third baseman Maikel Franco had come over to try to cover second base after Ramírez escaped the rundown.
“For him to have the wherewithal to get out of the rundown and also be thinking that quickly that third base is unoccupied to me is incredible,” Francona said. “Most guys would probably dive for the bag and move on. He knew their third baseman was on the [second-base] bag, he looked up right away, there's no hesitation.
“Then the fact that he almost fell, that just made it perfect.”
Ramírez jumped to his feet, but failed to ever get completely upright. Halfway to third base he clearly was losing his footing. His feet were getting tripped up and his arms did their best Michael Phelps freestyle impression, but he was able to keep his balance just long enough to collapse into third base.
“Yeah,” Indians outfielder Eddie Rosario said with a big laugh when asked if he thought Ramírez was going to fall. “I saw he was close and I was like, ‘Ohhh.’ But he made the play. He’s good.”
Nothing about this Indians season has gone to plan. The team is without four-fifths of its original starting rotation, one of its biggest sluggers is on the injured list and yet the team has still managed to find a way to trudge on in a fashion that resembled Ramírez’s unstable run to the bag. But, like always, Ramírez found yet another way to lead his team to a victory, sparking that crucial third inning to give Cleveland its ninth win in its last 13 games.
“There was definitely some laughs going on in the dugout,” Indians starter Aaron Civale said. “Again, that's Josey. Hustling to second and seeing that nobody was at third and nobody was going to be there. Just getting over there. He was hobbling over there. That's Josey in a nutshell.”