NEW YORK -- There was a point before the All-Star break when it seemed like no pitch could elude the bat of Jose Ramirez. The catalyst of Cleveland's offense then went ice cold, but manager Terry Francona has continued to express confidence that another scalding run was imminent for the infielder.
"He'll get hot again," Francona said before Monday's 6-2 win over the Yankees. "He's too good a hitter."
Francona's words proved prescient, as Ramirez hoisted the Tribe's lineup on his shoulders once again with a two-homer performance in the opener of this important three-game series with the Yankees. While the rest of the Indians' order labored against New York starter Luis Severino over the first six frames, Ramirez put on a power display that elicited plenty of Bronx cheers.
In the first inning, Ramirez crushed a 3-2 fastball from Severino -- a heater measured at 98.7 mph, per Statcast™ -- out to right-center field for his first home run of the night. Ramirez then snapped an 0-for-14 skid for the Indians' offense with a scorched line drive that landed in the second deck beyond the right-field wall and tied the game at 2. That blast came against a 98.2-mph pitch from Severino.
That made Ramirez the first Major League hitter to have a pair of home runs against 98-plus-mph pitches in a single game since pitch tracking began in 2008.
"Thank God I had success on that fastball there," Ramirez said through team translator Anna Bolton. "But, it's not easy to bat against 98 mph."
The home runs gave Ramirez 20 on the season for the Indians, who also achieved a bit of history with his performance. Ramirez joined fellow Tribe switch-hitters Francisco Lindor (24 home runs) and Carlos Santana (21) in the 20 home run club. This year's Indians joined the 2009 Yankees (Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira) as the only teams in baseball history to have three switch-hitters with at least 20 homers in the same season.
Santana, who launched a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh off Severino, has been blown away by his teammate's performance this season.
"Jose is a great player," Santana said. "Jose, he's having a great, great season this year. And I'm hopeful he'll keep it up. I see that he's so comfortable and he's trying to enjoy the game."
Ramirez's outburst was a welcomed sight for the Indians, considering his recent woes in the batter's box. In the 40 games before the All-Star break, the infielder posted a .405/.450/.753 slash line in 171 plate appearances. Then, Ramirez turned in a .226/.276/.333 slash in the 40 games (170 plate appearances) to open the second half, leading up to Monday's offensive flurry.
Told that he only had one homer in the second half before Monday night, Ramirez shot a puzzled look back at reporters.
"Oh really?" Ramirez said. "I was in a slump? I don't know. These are things that happen in the game. That's just what happened. Thankfully, I'm having success now."
And no one around the team doubted that Ramirez would heat up again.
"You wouldn't even notice that he was in a slump," Indians center fielder Bradley Zimmer said. "He's the same guy every day. He plays hard every single day and he did his thing tonight. That's him. He had good at-bats and he hit a couple bombs for us. It's good to see him swinging it. It was a big win for us."
Ramirez's two homers backed another stellar outing for ace Corey Kluber, who said he is happy not to have to face the switch-hitter.
"It's much more fun to watch him hit from the dugout," Kluber said, "than to have to try to get him out."
Ramirez -- never lacking in confidence -- had a different answer when asked if he would want to take on Kluber.
"I would actually really like to face him," Ramirez said. "If I get a good swing on it, maybe [I'd hit a homer]."