Who else? Ramírez slugs Cleveland to win

Veteran crushes pair of 2-run homers to lead on field as well as in clubhouse

April 7th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- When José Ramírez launched a three-run walk-off homer to clinch the Indians’ spot in the postseason last September, Progressive Field was eerily silent. With no fans in the stands, the only noise that was heard were the cheers from his own dugout. Seven months later, Ramírez got to experience what the eruption of a crowd felt like once again.

Cleveland needed a jolt -- anything to help get the offense moving after 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Ramírez did just that, not once but twice. He was the Indians’ entire offense on Wednesday afternoon, first with a two-run go-ahead blast in the sixth before he delivered the deciding two-run homer in the eighth to hand Cleveland a 4-2 victory over Kansas City at Progressive Field.

“This just in: Josey's pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Maybe a two-homer day in early April isn’t quite as monumental as his walk-off long ball in the bottom of the 10th against the White Sox to clinch a postseason berth last year. But maybe in some ways it was. The Indians are looking to establish an identity this year. A 26-man roster so young -- boasting just four players over the age of 30 -- is trying to prove that age is but a number. But without some form of leader or veteran presence to provide guidance, it’s difficult for an inexperienced lineup to find its footing so early in the season.

That’s why Ramírez is going to be so valuable -- even more so than the last few years -- to this club.

The runner-up for the 2020 American League Most Valuable Player Award will need to be the Indians’ MVP this season to help keep Cleveland in contention within the division. Because of the payroll trimming that occurred over the offseason, including trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, there was concern that the Indians took such a step backwards that they’d fall out of the playoff picture. While bats like , and should play a large role in helping Ramírez distribute some of the offensive workload, it’s the times when the offense is scuffling that Ramírez will need to step in to provide the spark.

“He’s a gamer, man,” said Cleveland starter Shane Bieber, who allowed just two runs on three hits and fanned 12 over 6 1/3 frames. “Whether it’s going good or it’s not, he’s the same guy and he brings that same energy. And that’s why we rely on him so much. Not just physically, but as a leader in the clubhouse, the way he goes about everything. Really can’t say enough about the guy.”

But Ramírez doesn’t look at this like he’s a one-man show.

“We’re a team, and we’re supposed to do this all together,” Ramírez said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I just feel like we’re pulling this together, and I don’t feel any pressure of that type.”

It was almost as if Ramírez was building himself up for the big moments. After he struck out in his first at-bat, he flew out to center in the fourth. And just before the first big blast, he launched a ball deep into the stands that was just a few feet into foul territory. The next pitch, he straightened out. And in the eighth, he smacked a 3-2 slider that had just enough behind it to squeak over the wall.

“Josey, it doesn't really matter how he swings, he's capable at any time,” Francona said. “But it looked like he was becoming more hitter-ish as the day progressed. Which is never a bad thing.”

We all were able to witness the scorching hot September that Ramírez had last year, hitting .366 with a 1.294 OPS in 23 games. That was during a stretch when Cleveland fell into an eight-game losing skid and almost let an AL Wild Card spot slip through its fingers. But Ramírez proved then that he could carry the offense when needed. And on Wednesday, he gave the indication that he’s, once again, up for the challenge.

“Everybody knows who he is as a person, as a player,” Bieber said. “He’s gonna be our guy all year, and it’s great to see him come up big for us today.”