ARLINGTON -- José Ramírez has found himself in a league of his own.
The Indians’ All-Star third baseman has put together yet another season worthy of some American League MVP Award votes, and even though his team is limping to the 2021 finish line, he’s finding ways to continue to shine. His two-hit, three-RBI performance helped lift Cleveland to a 9-6 victory over the Rangers in the series opener on Friday night at Globe Life Field.
As usual, Ramírez was the ignitor in an offensive outburst, smacking a two-run single up the middle, just slightly toward the opposite field to spark Cleveland’s four-run third inning. He knocked in another run on an infield single, playing a part in a five-run fourth frame.
“I think if you look, we started to hit the ball the other way a little bit and just making solid contact,” acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “Every time you get men on base and traffic, as I call it, you’re just looking to put the ball in play.”
Putting the ball in play has been Ramírez’s specialty, as he entered the game tied for the 12th-lowest strikeout percentage of all qualified hitters in the Majors. And whatever numbers Ramírez is able to add to his résumé in the last two games of the season are just icing on the cake for a year that’s already ranked among the best in the game.
He entered Friday as the only Major League player with at least 35 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. And even if someone else (likely Shohei Ohtani) joins him, Ramírez was still the first big leaguer to reach that mark.
“I think it's the love of the sport,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero on Bally Sports Cleveland’s postgame show when asked how he continues to produce. “I love this. I've loved this since I was a kid. Regardless if I don't feel well or if my body is hurting, I like to come out and give my best and play this game, because I love this game.”
Friday’s performance allowed Ramírez to watch those numbers creep even higher with 110 runs scored, 27 stolen bases and 103 RBIs. His consistency has been unmatched for Cleveland over the last handful of years, but his bat has gotten even hotter since the All-Star break, recording a .927 OPS with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 68 contests.
But as much as Ramírez could focus on his personal accolades, his focus remains on his team -- even if the club is out of playoff contention. The Indians have just two games left in their season and sit two games under .500. Cleveland has never had a losing season under manager Terry Francona, who’s been at the helm since 2013. Although this would be the first time the club fails to have a winning season, there’s still a chance that it finishes 81-81, and Ramírez is hoping to make that happen.
“We are aware that we're not competing to make it to the playoffs, unfortunately,” Ramírez said, “but the goal right now is to finish the year strong, [at] .500, and come out here and have fun.”
As he puts his main focus on his team, it’s hard not to analyze the elite territory Ramírez could still personally fall into. He’s just three stolen bases shy of his second 30/30 season (hitting at least 30 homers and stealing at least 30 bases) with his last coming in 2018. He’s well beyond the 30-homer mark, already having 36 under his belt, but Ramírez will need three more stolen bases in the final two games to accomplish the feat.
Sure, it’s on his mind. Ramírez is well aware of the league he’s put himself into and wants to continue to make a name for himself. But his top priority remains his team, despite its record. And that focus won’t change heading into the final games of the 2021 season.
“I always go with that intensity, and obviously it's a personal goal,” Ramírez said. “I've done it in the past. I want to do it again, but I just want to do it as long as the game allows and not do anything that's going to compromise my team, and most importantly not allow us to win games.”