CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians recorded their 27th come-from-behind victory of the season, beating the Blue Jays on Sunday, 3-2, taking the season series from Toronto.
This column features my takeaways from Sunday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. Jose Ramirez took a swing, shuffled to his right and admired his deep drive.
In his mind, there wasn’t any question about the ball being fair or foul. He knew his swing had just given his club a 3-2 lead. But sometimes, you just have to take a second to drink it all in.
“I knew it was really close to the line, but I knew it was going to be fair,” Ramirez said through the team’s translator, Anna Bolton. “But, you know, the emotions in a moment like that, you’ve got to do something a little different.”
In reality, something different would have resulted in Ramirez not coming through in a clutch situation. Because when the game has been on the line for Cleveland this season, the switch-hitter has typically shined.
His two-run homer, the 10th round-tripper of the season for Ramirez, erased the Blue Jays’ one-run advantage in the eighth inning and with one swing, gave the Indians a 3-2 advantage on reliever Brett Cecil and the Blue Jays.
Stop what you’re doing. (Yes, again.)
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) August 21, 2016
Perhaps the only surprise was that Francisco Lindor wasn’t able to make it into scoring position before Ramirez, the Major’s third-best hitter with runners in scoring position (.381), was able to pull off another heroic act.
“When someone’s on second base, Ramirez turns into a whole different hitter,” Lindor said. “Today he was 0-for-3. I thought he was going to take the first pitch because it’s a lefty he hasn’t hit all day. I saw his swing, as soon as he hit that ball, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow.’
“It’s unreal. It’s fun to watch him. It makes me happy, puts a smile on my face every time I know he’s going to be playing.”
2. Ramirez’s teammates are starting to expect the 23-year-old will come through in every big situation.
He continues to give them every reason to believe it. It wasn’t just his two-run home run on Sunday which had a big impact on the series, but don’t forget his solo blast in the ninth on Friday night set the stage for Tyler Naquin’s walk-off, inside-the-park home run.
And it seems like the longer the game progresses, the more likely it becomes that the switch-hitter is going to do something special. Six of the young infielder’s homers have come in the eighth inning or later.
“Jose, man, the guy’s incredible,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “He steps up to the plate anytime there’s a big situation, he seems to come through. He relishes the moment. He’s a huge part of why we are where we’re are.”
“I’m glad that he continually keeps being the guy coming up in those spots,” Sunday’s starter Corey Kluber added. “For whatever reason, he’s able to come through in those spots more often than not. Right now, I think there’s nobody else we’d rather have up in that situation.”
3. For whatever reason, Ramirez doesn’t seem to shy away from the big moments.
Certainly people will say he’s clutch. Others will say he manages the situation and never gets caught up in it. Maybe cynics will just say he’s been lucky. But his ability to make tons of contact and spray the ball to all fields certainly makes him a good candidate for moments with the game on the line.
And it sounds like he’s starting to love any chance to have that sort of impact on a ballgame.
“Yeah, you know, those high pressure moments are always enjoyable, they’re always good,” Ramirez said through Bolton. “It helps you learn how to focus better. It’s great to enjoy those moments.”
4. Much like his four-inning relief appearance on Thursday, Mike Clevinger provided some big outs in a crucial situation.
And it’s not as if coming out of the bullpen is something all that familiar to the rookie right-hander. In fact, his appearance out of the bullpen was just the third of his career, but he handled the tight situation like a veteran hurler.
Even when things got a little confusing.
Clevinger entered with the bases loaded to face the right-handed hitting slugger Edwin Encarnacion with two outs in the seventh. Corey Kluber had surrendered just two runs in 6 2/3 frames on Sunday, but the Indians’ ace couldn’t record the final out of the half inning, opening the door for Clevinger to enter in relief.
No pressure, right?
“It definitely brought intensity to a new level,” Clevinger said. “Plus it has been like a playoff atmosphere for this whole series. Then with the runners on base, I just tried to stay as locked in as a could.”
5. Not only was the situation unfamiliar to Clevinger, but the righty was forced to navigate through a confusing timeout-balk situation, which caused some chaos after the long-haired hurler picked up a pair of strikes against Encarnacion.
“He said I came to a double set, a double pause, which I don’t remember doing a double pause,” Clevinger said. “Just my taps in my windups I guess are considered a balk to them. I think I’ll just stick to a stretch with anybody on third base from now on.”
After things appeared to be settled, Clevinger fired a 94 MPH fastball to the outside corner, and home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus rang up Encarnacion to end the top half of the seventh.
Keeping it a one-run game, cleaning up the mess and tossing one more scoreless frame ended up giving Cleveland a huge boost, giving the Indians just enough time to finally break through in the bottom of the eighth to take the 3-2 lead.
“That probably wouldn’t be the first situation I’d pick for him coming in, in relief,” Indians manager Terry Francona admitted. “I just thought Kluber had gone far enough… But sometimes when you do that, now Clevinger feels good. I think he already did, but he feels better. Every experience he gets is going to help him.”
6. The atmosphere at Progressive Field for the three-game series between the Indians and Blue Jays was incredible.
With so many Toronto fans in attendance, there were times when it sounded like an even 50-50 split in terms of reactions at the ballpark. Blue Jays fans would chant. Indians fans would do their best to drown it out with boos. In a lot of ways, the collection of both fanbases brought out the best in each other.
And it seems both teams did the same on the field, with Cleveland taking two-of-three in the matchup between two first-place clubs. Every pitch, every out, every run mattered. All three games came down to the final out, and all were decided be one run.
7. If this is a showdown we see again in October, baseball fans will be the true winners.
“We won two out of three and I think we had the lead for, like, 10 minutes,” Indians manager Terry Francona joked. “I think it gives everybody [an idea of what a playoff atmosphere is like], myself included. There’s no feeling that I can think of like that. Your heart is in your throat, but you like it. It’s agony, but it’s also awesome. That’s why we do this. Our young guys have never flinched.”
Of course, winning two of three gives the Indians’ clubhouse a much better outlook on what went down. But even before Ramirez’s two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth, the series felt like an evenly matched contest.
“I’ve never played in the playoffs up here,” Lindor said. “But if this is what the playoffs feels like, I ask the Lord to give me an opportunity to play in it every single year. Because it was pretty fun.”