Bieber's hot arm, J-Ram's birthday HR guide Guardians in G1

September 17th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- There’s no question that the Guardians have found ways to benefit from their youth more often than letting it hinder their success. But if this team wants to make it into the postseason, it needs its veterans to lead the way, which is exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon.

In the first game of the Guardians’ doubleheader against the Twins, starter was on cruise control, keeping Minnesota off the board until a solo shot in the eighth before handing the ball over to closer Emmanuel Clase in the ninth. And while Bieber did the heavy lifting on the mound, José Ramírez sparked the offense with a first-inning solo homer that helped carry Cleveland to a 5-1 victory at Progressive Field.

“Just the pace that he has, it’s just a different feel when you’re out there on defense,” Guardians infielder said of Bieber. “Shane has definitely been on a different level lately. If he can keep that up, and with him on the mound, he’s about as good as anyone.”

Remember when there was concern about Bieber’s waning velocity at the beginning of the season and questions about whether he could be as dominant as he has been over the last few years? It seems we have all the answers we need after his performances the last few months.

In his last 10 starts (including Saturday), Bieber has pitched to a 1.68 ERA, averaging more than six innings per start in that span. And there was no better time to send a red-hot Bieber to the rubber, as the Guardians try to navigate a twin bill on Saturday and won’t be able to enjoy a team off-day for another nine days. Bieber understood his assignment and proceeded to eat up eight strong innings, lowering his ERA against the Twins this season to 2.05 (five earned runs, 26 1/3 frames).

“I thought he was very good,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s using that cutter really effectively.”

Bieber was able to pitch with the comfort of having a lead from the second inning on, thanks to Ramírez, who entered the day hitting .333 with a 1.041 OPS in his last eight games. In the first inning, Ramírez gave himself a 30th birthday present, smacking his 28th homer of the year, putting him in sole possession of 11th place in club history with 191 career home runs. Ramírez has now hit three long balls on his birthday in his career, which is tied with Jim Thome, Carlos Santana and Rocky Colavito (who he just passed on the home run list) for the most.

“Little birthday blast for him to start the game off,” Bieber said. “I know everybody was extra fired up to see that.”

The offense continued to follow Ramírez’s lead and put up four more runs before the end of the game. All it takes for Bieber is to have at least four runs of support while he’s in the game, usually, considering the team has gone 44-2 in those scenarios in his career. But this version of Bieber is slightly different from the one we’ve seen the last few years. Yes, his velocity is a little down and his pitch mix is a little different, as his usage of the curveball (which used to be his go-to pitch after his heater the last two seasons) is down, but Bieber is proving that no matter what version of himself is on the rubber, he can be dominant.

“He’s got such a nice feel for manipulating the ball that, guys like him, they’re kind of amazing,” Francona said. “They get a ball in their hand and they can make it do different things.”

Bieber and Ramírez showed in Saturday’s matinee how they can lead this team down the stretch. Now that the Guardians sit 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place White Sox and six games ahead of the Twins, the team is having even more fun.

“I think we’re alleviating a lot of pressure with the way we’re playing,” Bieber said. “We play an energetic and exciting and happy brand of baseball. … You come to the stadium and there’s a specific aura that everybody kind of expects to go out there and do their job and win. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of right now.”