But Jose Ramirez found a way to break the ice for the Cleveland Indians, and the Tribe’s dominant bullpen did the rest against the Texas Rangers.
Ramirez followed up his two-run blast in the first game with a solo shot in the second inning of the nightcap, and five Indians relievers held strong for a 5-1 win against Texas as Cleveland earned a doubleheader sweep at home for the first time in nearly five years.
Centerfielder Oscar Mercado put an exclamation point on the sweep with a diving catch of Danny Santana’s drive to left center field to end the game in the ninth.
Cleveland (68-46) plated three runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull away. Francisco Lindor doubled and scored on a Carlos Santana RBI double and Yasiel Puig added an RBI single before back-to-back doubles by Ramirez and Jason Kipnis gave Cleveland a four-run advantage.
Kipnis led off the seventh with a double to the gap in right center and moved to third on a wild pitch by Texas starter Lance Lynn before scoring on an RBI sacrifice fly to right by Franmil Reyes.
Ramirez launched his second home run of the day, a solo shot to right field in the second inning against Texas starter Lance Lynn, to give Cleveland it’s only run.
Cleveland picked up its 13th shutout win of the year, pulling ahead of the Dodgers for the most shutouts in the majors. The victory improved Cleveland’s record to 39-16 since June 4, the best win percentage in baseball over that span. They finished their nine-game homestand at 6-3.
Two wins by the Indians, coupled with a Minnesota loss to Atlanta moved the Indians within two games of the Twins for the American League Central Division lead heading into this week’s four-game series between the two at Target Field. The Indians also picked up a full game on Tampa Bay and Oakland, which both lost, giving the Tribe a three-game lead for the No. 1 wild card spot in the AL.
“I wish we were up, but I think we’ve done a good job of controlling what we can control,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That’s kind of the best way to go about it. We played a lot of baseball today, but these guys will be excited for (Thursday).
“They (Minnesota) are really good, we know that,” he added. “But they are also right in front of us, so it will be a good challenge.”
It’s the Tribe’s first doubleheader sweep since Sept. 1, 2017 at Detroit and the first time they’ve swept a doubleheader at home since Sept. 11, 2014 against Minnesota.
Ramirez now has extra-base hits in his last six starts. Since June 21, Ramirez is hitting .322 (46-143) with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs and the Indians are 13-2 in games when he homers.
Reliever A.J. Cole (3-1, 3.81) earned the win for the Indians after working 2 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out a pair. Cole was one of four Indians relievers to appear in the game behind starter Tyler Clippard, who struck out three Rangers batters in two hitless innings.
Willie Calhoun’s solo home run leading off the eighth inning for Texas was the only run Cleveland’s bullpen allowed in either game. Newcomer Hunter Wood followed Clippard with two scoreless innings and Nick Wittgren finished things off by blanking Texas over the final 1 2/3 frames.
“I thought they were tremendous,” Francona said of the relievers. “Clippard set the tone. Guys went multiple innings ... the only hiccup was Oliver leaving a breaking ball up to Calhoun. But what they did, that’s hard to do. There is no wiggle room for anyone to have a bad inning — and nobody did. That was really impressive.”
In the first game, Ramirez snapped a scoreless tie in the seventh inning with a two-run homer that proved to be the only runs scored in the 2-0 win.
Ramirez’s blast, a 393-foot shot to the seats in right field, was his 15th of the season. It gave the Indians their first runs in more than 15 innings across two games this week against Rangers pitching.
“He's been doing it for a while now, which is really good,” Francona said of Ramirez. “We weren't doing much of anything offensively — kind of a frustrating day — and he pops one out and we hold off for dear life.
“(Jose) is a great player,” he added. “He just got caught up into some bad habits hitting, and it took him a while to get his confidence back and get out of it.”
Nick Goody (3-0, 1.32) worked two scoreless innings in relief, striking out three, His outing included a nine-pitch encounter with Texas cleanup hitter Nomar Mazara to finish the eighth. Brad Hand picked up his 28th save in 30 opportunities, striking out the side in the ninth.
The Indians’ new-look lineup appeared flat for the second straight game against Texas, failing to solve righty Ariel Jurado until Mike Freeman’s base hit to right in the sixth. Jurado (6-7, 4.74) worked seven innings and struck out five Tribe hitters. He allowed just two walks and three total hits.
Indians starter Zach Plesac, meanwhile, pitched around five base hits and a walk in six innings, holding the Rangers scoreless on 106 pitches.
“He battled, and there were some deeper counts, but he never gave in,” Francona said of Plesac. “He made some huge pitches and stayed out there through six. And Goody going two, that really helped us in the first game — and hopefully it helps us for the second game.”
Both pitchers were helped out by their defenses early. Indians right fielder Puig showed off his throwing arm with a missile from the right field warning track in the second inning that held Rangers baserunner Logan Forsythe at third on a double by Delino DeShields.
And Elvis Andrus kept the Indians off the bases in the fourth when he fielded Mercado’s high chopper with a bare-handed stop and threw to first in time to get the speedy center fielder.
Ramirez and Roberto Perez drew walks and were the only Indians batters to reach base against Jurado before Freeman’s base hit. But Santana’s leadoff hit in the seventh set the table for Ramirez, who now has an extra-base hit in five consecutive games and entered the contest slugging .631 in his last 36 games.
The Indians hit the road for a critical four-game weekend series in Minnesota. Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07) will start tonight’s opener against Twins righty Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02). First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. The game will air on SportsTime Ohio and can be heard on WLKR 95.3 FM.
Clevinger will be making his 12th career appearance and ninth start against the Twins. He is 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA against Minnesota. Clevinger has won five consecutive decisions over six starts dating back to July 3, with a 1.69 ERA in that stretch.
Gibson started against Cleveland July 12 at Progressive Field, holding the Tribe to one run on four hits in 3 2/3 innings. In his career, Gibson is 3-9 against the Indians with a 5.34 ERA.