'Pen breakdown wastes Ramírez's heroics 

July 24th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- single-handedly got Cleveland back in the game after he committed two errors on one play that led to a three-run second inning for Tampa Bay. But that effort was for naught when the Indians allowed the Rays to take the lead in the ninth inning.

For the second consecutive night, the Indians’ bullpen couldn’t deliver late in the game, as Nick Wittgren was charged with five runs in the Rays’ six-run ninth inning that led to a 10-5 Cleveland loss on Friday night at Progressive Field.

Before flexing his muscles, Ramírez did commit quite the miscue (or two) that led to three runs for the Rays in the second. A single by Randy Arozarena ended with him crossing the plate after throwing and fielding errors by Ramírez at third allowed Arozarena and two others to score.

“Between [] probably not having his best command and us throwing the ball around the field, that put us in a tough spot early,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

Although that wasn’t the way the club was hoping to start the game behind Plesac, who was making his first start without pitch count limitations since coming back from the injured list, Cleveland still had reasons to celebrate Ramírez before the end of the night.

July has not been kind to Ramírez, as he entered the night hitting just .167 with a .576 OPS, one homer and two RBIs for the month. And for a club that’s desperately fighting to remain in contention in the American League Central and the AL Wild Card race, Friday’s performance was a welcome sight.

After the Rays tacked on one more run on Nelson Cruz’s homer in the third, Ramírez answered with a three-run homer, snapping an 0-for-13 stretch. It also marked his first homer as a right-handed batter since June 16 against Baltimore, and his 20 homers through 88 games are the second most he has ever posted in that span. Four innings later, Ramírez painted himself as the hero with an RBI triple to knot the game at 4, as he turned in his second career game with a triple and a homer (last on Aug. 6, 2020).

“We know how much we need him, and he knows that,” Francona said. “He's still human sometimes, but when they have to pitch to him he's pretty dangerous.”

It takes more than one player to create a productive offense, but it has been glaringly obvious just how much life Ramírez brings to this team. His four games with four or more RBIs this season are tied for first in the AL and fourth in the Majors. He has racked up eight contests with at least four RBIs since the start of 2020, which is tied for the most in the Majors in that span with White Sox slugger José Abreu. And in games in which he has launched a homer this season, Cleveland is 17-2 despite Friday’s loss.

The game may have gotten away from the Indians after Wittgren was charged with five runs and Blake Parker allowed one more in the top of the ninth. The bullpen may have faltered for the second consecutive night. And Cleveland may have missed an opportunity to gain ground in the division, with the White Sox falling to the Brewers on Friday night. But if the club is going to have any chance at making a playoff run, it will need Ramírez. And his performance was a positive sign that he may be finding his offensive groove once again.

“Yeah, big player making big plays in a big situation,” Plesac said of Ramírez. “I don’t know if he felt like he had to do something. He knows when it’s time to do it. It’s just so fun to watch him go out there in big situations and come through and put the team up and be the player he is. I feel blessed to be able to be playing with him on the same team.”