Francona said they’d check daily on the condition of Ramirez’s surgically repaired right hand, but made it clear he was hoping to play Ramirez as much as possible. It’s easy to see why.
Ramirez hit a grand slam and a three-run homer in his first two at-bats as the Indians hammered the White Sox, 11-0, at Guaranteed Rate Field. Those were his first two at-bats since he had the hamate bone removed from his right hand on Aug. 26.
The surgery was supposed to end Ramirez’s season. The prognosis was he’d miss five to seven weeks. He made it back in just over four weeks.
“(Yasiel) Puig’s at-bat really set up the whole inning,” Francona said. “But that’s just unbelievable. To have the surgery, miss a month and the first at-bat back ... the way he hit that ball. It’s just unbelievable.”
The Indians (93-64) entered the game trailing Tampa Bay by a half-game for the road position in the American League Wild Card Game. The Rays (94-64) maintained that lead as they beat the Yankees, 2-1, in 12 innings on Tuesday night.
Oakland (94-62) went into its game against the Angels with a 1.5 game lead over the Rays for the home wild card spot.
“I think they know the importance of these games … we have to win,” Francona said. “There is no getting around that. Nobody is ready to go home yet, so we have to keep going.”
In the AL Central, the Indians stayed four games behind the first-place Twins (97-60). The Twins beat Detroit, 4-2, to reduce their magic number to clinch the division and eliminate the Indians to two.
Ramirez, in his first at-bat since breaking his hamate bone on Aug. 24 against the Royals, hit a grand slam off right-hander Carson Fulmer for 4-0 lead in the first. Ramirez hit a 3-1 pitch over the fence in right field for his 21st homer and second slam of his career.
Fulmer stayed the game with two quick outs, but walked Carlos Santana, gave up a single to Puig and walked Jordan Luplow to load the bases for Ramirez. Puig’s 10-pitch at-bat seemed to unnerve Fulmer (1-2, 6.26)
Roberto Perez made it 5-0 with his 24th homer of the season to start the second. In the third, Ramirez came to the plate for the second time after Puig doubled and Luplow walked against lefty Hector Santiago. Ramirez crushed Santiago’s first pitch, a 93 mph fastball, over the fence in left field for an 8-0 lead.
It was the fourth time Ramirez has homered from both sides of the plate in one game. The two homers gave Ramirez seven RBI in his first two at-bats. He is the first Indians player, according to StatsBySTATS to drive in seven runs in the first three innings of the game since Vic Wertz did it in 1957.
Ramirez batted one more time, striking out in the fourth, before Yu Chang replaced him at third base. The seven RBI gave his 82 for the season.
The Indians finished the night with four homers. After Ramirez and Perez went deep, Oscar Mercado hit his 15th homer of the season, a three-run shot in the fifth to make it 11-0. Mercado has five homers and 19 RBIs in September.
Mike Clevinger (13-3, 2.39), with a big lead, never gave Chicago a chance to get into the game. He threw seven scoreless innings, striking out 10. Clevinger, since July 3, is 12-4 with a 1.88 ERA in 16 starts. He also improved to 8-0 in his last eight road starts.
“He was terrific, and probably could have stayed out there,” Francona said of Clevinger. “But for all he has pitched, the hope is he keeps pitching a little bit — so the idea was to maybe get him to where he doesn’t have to go 100 pitches was good.”
Dan Otero, making his first appearance since Sept. 5, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Phil Maton pitched the ninth to complete the Tribe’s 16th shutout of the season.
Right-hander Shane Bieber (15-7, 3.23) will start for the Indians on Wednesday night against the White Sox. Lefty Ross Detwiler (2-5, 6.98) will start for Chicago in the 8:10 p.m. game that will be carried by SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM.
Bieber, 3-0 in his last four starts, is 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts against Chicago this season. Detwiler will make his 11th start and 17th appearance for the White Sox this season. The Indians beat him on Sept. 2 at Progressive Field as he allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings.