With the Indians ahead in the fourth inning on Tuesday against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, starting pitcher Shane Bieber, who had needed just five pitches to get the first two outs, began to labor.
On a humid night and with cramps running in both of his calves, Bieber began falling behind batters. A walk, hit-by-pitch, RBI single and another walk left the bases loaded.
But Bieber dug deep to get the third out en route to a six-inning, five-strikeout gem and a 10-1 Indians win over the Cardinals in the series opener.
“Huge credit to [the] defense and [Austin Hedges] for sticking with me there,” Bieber said. “And then, obviously, the offense coming alive early and often tonight.
“Just challenge guys,” said Bieber when asked about what it takes to battle through. “You’ve got to will it and just make it happen.”
To his credit, Bieber worked fast and efficiently, totaling 98 pitches (63 strikes) across his six innings, limiting the Cardinals’ normally potent offense to five hits and the lone run scored in the fourth.
After an uncharacteristic 18-5 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, the Indians needed to bounce back in this Interleague series. Bieber’s outing provided the offense with plenty of opportunities to get back on track. They tallied 10 runs on 15 hits, including four RBIs from José Ramírez.
The Indians have now won 26 consecutive games when providing Bieber with at least four runs of support and are 32-1 all time in that situation.
“Whatever happened, let alone 26 starts ago, but Sunday you put it in the rearview mirror and you move on,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think Bieber is one of the very best pitchers in the game. I think that has a lot to do with it.”
“There's an art to pitching with the lead,” Hedges said. “It's a tough thing to do sometimes. You get out there [and] you feel like you've got to just throw strikes the whole time. You can't be walking guys. There's a fine line between making sure we're getting ahead [and] not giving them free bases, but still executing and going out there.”
The Indians struck first on an Amed Rosario RBI triple before extending the lead in the third on Ramírez’s three-run home run, his 14th of the season.
Ramírez, who finished second in American League MVP voting in 2020, is slashing .370/.414/.704 over his last seven games.
“I'm always locked in,” Ramírez said through translator Agustin Rivero. “But baseball, one day you're locked in and the next one you're not. So that happens, you just have to make an adjustment, be aggressive and that's where I am right now.”
The early 5-0 lead provided Bieber with all the comfort needed to attack hitters.
“[In scoreless] ballgames you pitch a little bit tighter, a little bit finer, just trying not to give up hits or runs,” Bieber said. “To be able to get offense early and often, like tonight, gives you the confidence to just go out there and try to attack guys.”
Still, Cleveland continually found ways to score, tacking on an additional four runs in the ninth inning to end any potential for a Cardinals comeback.
Of Cleveland’s nine starting position players, only first baseman Bobby Bradley and the pitcher’s spot did not record a hit.
“We ran the bases aggressively,” Francona said. “We got on the board in the first inning, which always helps, and coming off an off-day, I can't come up with a bad time to see everybody get hits.”
With the win, Cleveland moves to 32-26 on the season, helping keep the gap between themselves and the first-place White Sox at just four games in the AL Central.
And while much can be said about the offense’s ability to work counts and do damage, the night belonged to Bieber, who leads all pitchers in strikeouts and is in second place for wins in the AL, behind teammate Aaron Civale, who has eight.
It was only three starts ago that Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, began to look human, allowing 12 runs (11 earned) in his first four starts of May.
In the three starts since then, including Tuesday, Bieber is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 24 strikeouts and five runs allowed (four earned) in 20 innings.
“There’s not much to add anymore to what Bieber is,” Ramírez said. “We know the type of pitcher that he is. We know what type of performance we’re accustomed to. He did that today, and that’s Bieber for you.”