CLEVELAND -- It would be an exaggeration to refer to Progressive Field as Josh Donaldson’s “old stomping grounds,” as he only suited up for the Indians in 16 games at the end of 2018, when he was trying to prove himself healthy and they were trying to get a late-season boost.
But he’s definitely done some stomping in this building in his history as a visitor. And when the stomping continued Sunday, it keyed a big night for the Braves’ bats in an 11-5 win.
Donaldson tagged Tribe starter Shane Bieber with two home runs in the game’s first two innings, and that was just the beginning of an eruption for an Atlanta offense that was coming off Saturday night’s game-changing, five-run ninth. That brings his career homer total at Progressive Field to 11 -- his highest total at any facility other than his true “old stomping grounds,” the Oakland Coliseum and Rogers Centre in Toronto.
“I like it, I like the park,” Donaldson said. “I think it sets up pretty well for me. [Saturday] I didn’t see the ball great, but today I was able to see the ball well.”
The 17th multihomer game of Donaldson’s career -- and his first since Sept. 26, 2017, when he homered twice as a member of the Blue Jays off Red Sox ace Chris Sale -- began with one out in the first, when he smacked Bieber’s 1-0 slider 409 feet to center field for a solo shot.
The slider is Bieber’s best pitch, and it’s also a pitch that the Indians’ staff, at large, tried to use to neutralize Donaldson in this series.
“They probably threw me about 45 sliders in the [Saturday] doubleheader,” Donaldson joked. “After he started me off slider and slider again, I thought, ‘All right, it’s probably going to be a slider buffet again.’ I was able to put a good swing on a slider in the first at-bat.”
In the second inning, with two on and one out, he did his damage on a 1-2 four-seamer elevated above the zone. Donaldson turned on the pitch and belted it 398 feet into the left-field bleachers to put the Braves up, 5-0. He playfully stuck his tongue out at his Braves mates in the dugout as he began his trek around the basepaths.
The homers doubled Donaldson’s season total and continued a stretch in which he has hits in 10 of his last 13 games, with nine extra-base hits along the way.
“He’s one of the scariest hitters when he gets going in a game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Donaldson. “I’m sure if you’re sitting on their side, you get excited for them."
Bieber was gone before the end of the Braves’ three-run third, and the runs kept coming against the Indians’ bullpen to make it a total rout, with more than enough support for brilliant starter Max Fried.
The Braves were perilously close to suffering a doubleheader sweep Saturday that would have given this series a different tone. But in working good at-bats late in that one and then following Donaldson’s lead on a night in which every member of the starting lineup notched at least one hit and six drove in at least one run, they headed to Ohio’s other baseball outpost -- Cincinnati -- feeling good about themselves.
“Momentum is contagious, whether it’s good momentum or bad momentum,” Donaldson said. “I felt we had good momentum going [into Sunday], and we kept it going.”