CLEVELAND -- Mike Napoli tackled Jose Ramirez and pulled the stocky infielder to the grass behind the mound at Progressive Field. Jason Kipnis got in some playful kicks, while Yan Gomes emptied a water bottle on the short dreadlocks atop Ramirez's head.Asked about the celebratory assault after Cleveland's 3-2, 10-inning
CLEVELAND -- Mike Napoli tackled Jose Ramirez and pulled the stocky infielder to the grass behind the mound at Progressive Field. Jason Kipnis got in some playful kicks, while Yan Gomes emptied a water bottle on the short dreadlocks atop Ramirez's head.
Asked about the celebratory assault after Cleveland's 3-2, 10-inning win over the White Sox, Ramirez smirked on Sunday afternoon. He played the hero with a walk-off single in this one, but he hopes others keep coming through to keep the American League Central-leading Tribe on a roll. Ramirez has a few names on his list for future mob scenes.
"[Francisco] Lindor and Kipnis were hitting me really hard," Ramirez said through a translator. "I have to continue winning games like I am, and I'll keep giving it hard to them just like they're giving it to me."
• Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Ramirez and other #ASGWorthy Indians
Sunday's heroics by Ramirez not only helped Cleveland complete a three-game sweep of Chicago, but it was the latest example of his emerging importance to this Indians team. While outfielder Michael Brantley has been sidelined for most of the season with a shoulder issue, Ramirez has floated between left field and third base, while offering a steady bat in the middle of the lineup.
Ramirez does not look like a heart-of-the-order hitter, but his value comes in his high contact rate, which was a team-leading 86.4 percent heading into Sunday's game. That has led to balls being put in play consistently by the pesky switch-hitter, who has thrived with runners in scoring position as a result.
"You give yourself more of a chance if you put the ball in play in those situations," Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. "How hard [a ball is hit] is going to help, too. The harder you hit the ball, the more chances you're going to have of getting a base hit. He's been pretty good at finding the barrel and hitting the ball hard."
The decisive blow on Sunday came against White Sox closer David Robertson, who fired an 0-1 cutter inside at 92 mph with two outs and the bases loaded. Ramirez pulled the pitch hard to the right side -- the grounder had a 96-mph exit velocity -- and Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu could not handle it. The baseball took a fortuitous bounce, skipping by Abreu as he tumbled backward and stabbed at the ball with his glove.
Rajai Davis, who opened the 10th inning with a double, trotted home and set off the on-field party.
It was a credit to Ramirez's ability to deliver in the clutch.
"And maybe to our grounds crew for putting that hop in there, too," Indians manager Terry Francona joked.
Through 60 games, the 23-year-old Ramirez has turned in a .294/.361/.417 slash line with three home runs, 16 doubles, 23 RBIs and 33 runs scored. He has hit .381 (16-for-42) with runners in scoring position and .414 (12-for-29) with runners in scoring position and two outs. His 32 percent line-drive rate also led the Indians, entering Sunday's game.
"I remember when he told me in Spring Training," Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco said. "He said, 'Carlos, I'm ready to play.' He's done that from the beginning of Spring Training to now. He's a big part of the team now with Michael Brantley out. He's been playing great and I'm really happy for him."
As of now, Brantley remains in the soft-toss stage of a hitting program with no clear timetable for return.
That means more chances for Ramirez.
"They have faith in me, and I thank them for that," Ramirez said. "I'm going to keep trying to do my best and to help them to continue to believe in me."
And Ramirez hopes to get a few playful punches of his own in down the road, too.
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 listen to his podcast.