The traditional birthday protocol is to buy presents for the person who is celebrating another year of life. Instead, José Ramírez gifted the Indians four hits, including two home runs, and four RBIs on his 28th birthday to help lift the club to its first win since Sept. 7.
For the first time in over a week, the Tribe received stellar pitching, as Shane Bieber went 7 2/3 innings permitting three runs on 118 pitches, and tremendous run support, as Ramírez’s two long balls led the way in Cleveland’s 10-3 victory over Detroit on Thursday at Comerica Park.
Ramírez’s timely performance enabled his name to join an exclusive list. He became the sixth player in franchise history to hit two homers on his birthday, joining Carlos Santana (2012), Albert Belle (1995), Joe Azcue ('63), Ray Boone ('51) and Earl Averill ('34).
“It never happened before,” Ramírez said, through an interpreter, when asked if he’s ever had such a big game on his birthday. “I really thank God for this type of day. It's the best thing that can happen to you. You win, you get good at-bats. So, thank God for life.
But Thursday’s win was more than just a party in honor of Ramírez’s 28th trip around the sun. Let’s take a look at the three reasons this victory was crucial for the Tribe.
1. The end of the longest losing streak in the Terry Francona era
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. The Indians matched their longest losing streak since Francona took over the club in 2013 with Wednesday night’s extra-inning loss to the Cubs. Another defeat would’ve marked the club’s longest skid since 2012.
“I'll tell you something, I'm going to sleep good tonight,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “We were feeling pressure in different directions. ... I know the last eight, nine days haven't been great, but the guys keep fighting every day and that's what matters.”
Cleveland was outscored 49 to 24 over its previous eight games, and for a team that’s been held to two or fewer runs 22 times this season (most in MLB), seeing 10 runs on the board was a breath of fresh air. It may have been most relieving for Bieber, who’s gone 8-1 this season despite the lack of run support he’s received this year. Of the five pitchers currently on the squad who have made at least five starts, Bieber entered the night having received the least amount of run support, as the offense averaged 2.9 runs per game in his previous 10 starts.
2. Ramírez’s thumb must be feeling better
Ramírez had been sidelined with thumb discomfort on Sept. 8 before he got some at-bats against left-handed pitching on Sept. 9. The pain wasn’t as prevalent when he hit from the right side of the plate, but he was kept out of the lineup again against a righty on Sept. 10. If there was any concern whether that injury would continue to impact his left-handed at-bats, he took care of that with two swings.
Just how much could a small, nagging injury affect him? In eight games in July (though a small sample size), he hit .429 with a 1.244 OPS. When the thumb started to flare up in August, he hit .202 with a .700 OPS. And for a team that went 39-8 in games in which Ramírez recorded an RBI in 2019, the Indians need their third baseman’s bat to come alive with the postseason inching closer.
“[Ramírez is] an incredible athlete, incredible hitter, great third baseman and an even better teammate,” Bieber said. “Him coming out with that energy consistently, every single day, whether we’ve won eight straight or lost eight straight, goes a long, long way and I know myself and a lot of other guys in the clubhouse appreciate him for that.”
3. Creating breathing room in the postseason standings
Though the Indians, who currently hold the second American League Wild Card spot, still had a four-game cushion in the postseason standings entering the night, a five-game lead with just 10 games left is a much more comfortable spot for the Tribe, which has struggled to win over the past week and a half. With losses on Thursday, the Tigers and Mariners both sit five games back in the loss column.
“Going into the postseason, it’d be nice to get some momentum moving forward,” Bieber said. “That’s what we’re working to do. A lot of good teams make it, but a lot of hot teams win it. If we can get going toward the end of the season right now, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”