'He's our MVP': J-Ram belts decisive G1 blast

October 8th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The chants were so loud that they were echoing through Progressive Field. There was a pause in the action on the field for a replay review. José Ramírez had nothing else to focus on than the 30,741 fans singing his name to a tune he’s heard countless times in this ballpark.

Ramírez had just returned to the dugout after giving his team a lead with a two-run home run off Rays ace left-hander Shane McClanahan that eventually lifted the Guardians to a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series on Friday afternoon. The crowd was relentless, showing its appreciation for the one hitter who’s been consistently keeping Cleveland competitive over the last few seasons. Ramírez couldn’t help but take a step out of the dugout to wave to the fans.

“It makes me feel very good when I get that recognition,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero, “and I feel these are the best fans in the world, so it's really happy for me to get that ovation.”

It goes without saying that this win was critical for Cleveland in a three-game series, but the numbers explain why. MLB has only a limited history of three-game playoff series, but the expanded postseason in 2020 did give us eight Wild Card series that were best of three. Six of the eight teams that won Game 1 in those series advanced. All six of those were two-game sweeps. However, the two teams that evened things up in Game 2 (A’s vs. White Sox, Padres vs. Cardinals) then won Game 3 as well. If you add in four previous best-of-three tiebreaker series that decided NL pennants between 1946-62, then the Game 1 winner improves to 10-2 all-time in that format.

With a deeper look at three-game series throughout the regular season this year among the Majors, 78% were won by the Game 1 winner, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

And without Ramírez, the Guardians may not be in this position.

“For me, he's the best player in baseball,” Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario said.

In the regular season, Ramírez led his team in homers (29), RBIs (126), runs scored (90), slugging percentage (.514), OPS (.869), doubles (44) and games played (157) before standing in front of the crowd at the top step of the third-base dugout with his arms above his head, waving to chanting fans for being the hero in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. This is the reason the Guardians were adamant about inking him to a long-term deal coming into the year.

“There's a lot of guys that made some names for themselves this year, which is awesome,” catcher Austin Hedges said. “But it's clear as day who the MVP of this team is.”

Guardians manager Terry Francona always says that he knows some of his top hitters are at their best when they’re taking the ball the other way. Ramírez started going the other way during his four-hit performance in Game 162 on Wednesday, and the momentum spilled into Friday. Batting right-handed, Ramírez sent his homer over the right-center-field wall in the sixth before serving a single into right field in the eighth. The blast marked his eighth non-pull home run from the right side in his career and the first since April 13 of this season.

Ramírez was ready for the changeup from McClanahan. It’s been McClanahan’s best pitch all season, having given up just one homer on the offering while holding hitters to a collective .145 average against it. Ramírez had fouled off the changeup twice in his first at-bat in the first inning before grounding out on it in the fourth.

“Yeah, that was my plan, just look for that changeup.” Ramírez said. “He got me twice with the same pitch, because it's a really good pitch. It really resembles a fastball. So I was just sitting on that pitch and I was just trying not to do too much, just put it on the opposing side of the field, and I was able to get good contact on that.”

Before he got his home run pitch, Ramírez took a high-and-outside changeup for a borderline strike. When it was left up again two pitches later, Ramírez didn’t miss his opportunity.

“He's such a good hitter, you're not going to fool him with a bad pitch again in the same spot,” McClanahan said.

The Guardians will look to lock up their first postseason series win since 2016 on Saturday. And if Ramírez can continue this hot stretch, the team’s odds of advancing can only increase.

“When that guy's hitting in the three-hole for you and playing third base every day, on the basepaths, in the clubhouse, everything he does -- he's our energy,” Hedges said. “He's our MVP, and we ride with him.”