Cleveland was six defensive outs away from starting a seven-game road trip with a win. The slim one-run lead was tested all night against a White Sox offense that was eager to hit one out of the park. But the one who was able to hit a long ball in the cold Chicago sky was José Ramírez, who provided the insurance Cleveland was looking for in the 5-3 win on Friday night.
Cleveland tallied four runs in the third inning to come back from an early 1-0 deficit at Guaranteed Rate Field. Ramírez led the charge with a single to center field that plated two runs to give Shane Bieber the lead when he took the mound in the bottom of the inning.
However, it was his home run in the eighth that sealed the win for Cleveland and Bieber. Ramírez’s team-leading seventh homer of the year was a fly ball 356 feet to right field with an exit velocity of 96.2 mph, per Statcast. White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton made an attempt to pull it back, but the ball was too far gone as Cleveland extended its lead.
Before he stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning, Ramírez had a scouting report of his own against Evan Marshall as he faced him in four prior at-bats. He knew how Marshall’s pitches moved and had one way to describe the 86.1 mph changeup offered to him: “A home-run pitch.”
"I was concentrating and getting that pitch,” Ramírez said. “Normally, that's what he's thrown a lot in the past, the changeup on the side, so I was kind of like looking for that pitch."
Ramírez ended the night 2-for-4 with three RBIs and no strikeouts. The Cleveland offense has been trying to find its footing during the first month of the season, much of the blame going to cold weather in the Midwest. But the cold hasn’t bothered the No. 3 hitter as he sports a slash line of .273/.340/.568.
“I think he’s a great hitter. I think he’s an intelligent hitter, but I think he’s one of the better hitters of the game,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think people can’t really tell because they don’t see the dugout, but he pays attention to everything."
Ramírez has long been a player Cleveland wants at the plate in a high-stakes situation. With the bases loaded and one out in the third inning, the 28-year-old was not fazed by Dallas Keuchel topping out at 89.1 mph on the mound.
"He's not an overpowering thrower, so you just have to let the ball come to the plate,” Ramírez said.
"I think my focus is not so much having bases loaded, it's just more like who's pitching, how aggressive they are and how many pitches they locate around the plate,” he added. “My mindset just changes based on the pitcher who I'm facing in that situation.”
The pitcher who benefited from Ramírez’s mindset was Bieber, who walked away with the win in his history-making night. Bieber has been keen to record-setting outings this season and Friday night was no exception. After he struck out Yasmani Grandal to start the bottom of the fourth inning, the reigning AL Cy Young winner became the only MLB pitcher to record at least eight strikeouts in 18 consecutive games.
The historic strikeout was his eighth of the night as Bieber’s 11 punchouts against Chicago became his fifth start this season in which he recorded at least 10 strikeouts.
“It's special. It's kind of surreal just to be able to experience that,” Bieber said. “Obviously, at the end of the day, all that matters is going out there and giving the team a chance to win. So I'm really happy with just how tonight went in general, especially with the end result being a W.”
Because of Ramírez’s and Bieber’s respective nights, Cleveland is a .500 team once more this season.