MINNEAPOLIS -- It seemed like a foolish decision: Pitching to Jose Ramirez in the ninth inning with the game on the line on Monday night. The Tribe slugger had already launched two home runs and Francisco Lindor stood on third, representing the go-ahead run.Twins closer Fernando Rodney worked the count
MINNEAPOLIS -- It seemed like a foolish decision: Pitching to Jose Ramirez in the ninth inning with the game on the line on Monday night. The Tribe slugger had already launched two home runs and Francisco Lindor stood on third, representing the go-ahead run.
Twins closer Fernando Rodney worked the count full -- both of Ramirez's blasts earlier in the evening came on full-count offerings -- and fired a fastball over the meat of the plate. When Ramirez swings, he rarely misses, but this time proved to be a critical exception in Cleveland's 5-4, walk-off loss at Target Field.
Even Ramirez looked shocked, standing at the plate for a moment before retreating to the visitors' dugout.
"He was like, 'What happened?'" Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Yeah, that's kind of rare."
Ramirez, who is now tied with Boston's J.D. Martinez for the MLB lead in home runs with 32 on the year, had gone 46 plate appearances without a swinging strikeout, dating back to July 15. His 11-percent strikeout rate is the eighth-lowest mark among qualified hitters. Swinging strikeouts only account for 8.2 percent of his plate appearances.
The decisive pitch was a 96.9 mph heater that tailed away from Ramirez's barrel. Three pitches earlier, Rodney gave the switch-hitter a look at his changeup. The closer also took some velocity off his fastball at the start of the at-bat to toy with Ramirez's timing.
"Their guy put enough of an offspeed in his head," Francona said, "that he was able to get the fastball by him."
Rodney escaped harm in the inning, leaving Lindor 90 feet from home. The Indians shortstop was also stranded there in the seventh after a one-out triple. On the night, Cleveland was 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-13 with runners on overall. Those escapes by Minnesota -- a club in sell mode ahead of Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline -- paved the way for the game's decisive moment.
In the ninth inning, Indians reliever Neil Ramirez issued a leadoff walk to Miguel Sano, who was replaced on the bases by pinch-runner Ehire Adrianza. Following a sacrifice bunt by Twins center fielder Jake Cave that moved Adrianza up to second, Mitch Garver pulled a pitch from Ramirez to deep left-center field for a walk-off double.
Earlier in the game, the Twins struck for four runs (three earned) off Tribe rookie Shane Bieber, who walked away with a no-decision after his 6 1/3 innings. The Indians' situational hitting left a lot to be desired, but the lineup did pick up Bieber with three homers, including one by Yan Gomes, in a four-run showing against righty Ervin Santana.
Ramirez led the charge with a solo shot in the first inning and another solo job in the fourth -- both crushed over the wall in right. That outburst came on the heels of a seven-game skid with zero hits for the All-Star third baseman, who posted a remarkable .000/.414/.000 slash line in 29 plate appearances in that span.
During that "slump," Ramirez drew 11 walks, stole three bases, collected two RBIs, was hit by a pitch and crossed home plate five times. Against the Twins, he not only had the two homers, but was intentionally walked in the seventh and stole second. So, Ramirez has gone 2-for-20 over his last eight games, while posting an .841 OPS.
The main issue is that pitchers have been giving Ramirez few pitches to hit in the strike zone. Ramirez's zone rate of 40.6 percent this year is the lowest in any season in his career.
"This is a game. There's ups and downs with it," Ramirez said through team interpreter Will Clements. "Sometimes, the pitchers are throwing you a lot of strikes. Sometimes, they're throwing balls. So, I just stay focused on trying to get my pitches."
In the ninth, Rodney gave Ramirez a pitch to hit. It was a rare moment when the slugger was the one overpowered.
"We got Josey up in the ninth inning," Francona said. "That's the guy you want up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kipnis' miscue:James Dozier led off the second by pulling a pitch from Bieber to the left side of the infield for what looked like a routine groundout. Second baseman Jason Kipnis -- positioned up the middle in a shift -- ranged to his right and got to the ball in time, but did not glove it cleanly. The baseball wound up in left field and Dozier reached first. Dozier then moved to third on a single (Max Kepler) and scored on a sacrifice fly (Robbie Grossman) to account for the unearned run on Bieber's line.
Double trouble: With one out in the sixth inning, Santana hit Edwin Encarnacion with a pitch and Yonder Alonso followed with a sinking liner to center field. Per Statcast™, the play had an 18 percent catch probability, but Cave -- caught in-between -- attempted to stop the ball with a dive. It nicked Cave's glove as he slammed to the ground and skipped behind him, giving Alonso an RBI double to tie the game at 4-4.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Following an RBI double by Sano in the second, the Indians called for a pitch-out on an 0-1 count to Cave. Gomes gloved the pitch from Bieber and snapped off a quick throw up the middle to Lindor. The Tribe shortstop applied a tag on Sano as he dove back into the base and Lindor raised a fist in celebration of the pick-off.
Ramirez's 32 home runs are the most by an Indians batter prior to August since 2001, when newly inducted Hall of Famer Jim Thome had 33. Ramirez has drawn at least one walk in eight games in a row. That's the longest streak of that kind for a Tribe hitter since Victor Martinez had at least one free pass in 10 straight games from Sept. 15-25, 2006.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-6, 2.32 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe on Tuesday, when the Twins host the Indians at 8:10 p.m. ET at Target Field. Bauer has a 2.64 ERA in 11 starts on the road this season. Minnesota will counter with righty Kyle Gibson (5-7, 3.42).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.