The Cleveland Indians dismantled the Seattle Mariners yesterday, but one play in particular served as the catalyst. During the third inning, Lonnie Chisenhall popped up to shallow right field. Robinson Cano tracked it down to complete what appeared to be a routine play.
José Ramírez hustles to home plate to score for the Indians!!! pic.twitter.com/rbRrwg5mwU— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) April 30, 2017
Cano turned around to make the catch, putting his back to the plate. He gloved it and maked a lazy turn back to the diamond. Ramirez saw this and charged toward home when the ball hit the webbing.
When Jose Ramirez is flying around the basepaths fast enough to lose his helmet, defenders should know not to take a moment off.
At this point, the race was on. It’s clear that Cano never expected anyone to break for home on such a play. If he’d taken an extra split second to plant and fire, the outcome of the play might be different, but he panicked. He hurried and flicked the ball to home plate.
In order to beat the throw, Ramirez needed to make a perfect slide. I’m not expert on sliding. In fact, when I played as a kid, I routinely bruised my knee by bouncing it in the clay in front of the bag. Still, I wonder whether or not it’s ordinary for a man to leap from the college three point line when starting a slide.
Ramirez soared across the clay toward the plate, but at a slight angle toward the back corner. Carlos Ruiz planted himself in front of the plate to field the throw. Cano released it right at the target, and Ruiz caught and swept in an attempt to nab Ramirez. How close does it come?
If Javier Baez gained a reputation as being the greatest “tagger” in baseball, isn’t it about time we acknowledge Jose Ramirez as one of the best sliders? What could possibly be better than a golden-haired man soaring through the air, sliding on his belly, then slapping the back of the plate with his fingers right before the catchers applies the tag? We even get the helmet flying off, which is the fifth such occurrence on the season, according to Zack Meisel.
It’s worth considering the momentum swing a negative outcome might have had. Instead of pointing to Ramirez as a spark-plug for an offensive outburst, we’d yell about a terrible TOOTBLAN that ended the inning at home plate. The Indians would leave the third with only a one-run lead. The taxed Mariners bullpen sitting in the shade, resting. The fans in the stadium dejected, sauntering back for another White Rajah rather than cheering from the seats. Instead, this aggressive move pays off, the momentum swings in the Indians favor, and the crowd goes wild!
We have to give Lonnie Chisenhall credit where credit is due. Ramirez is above-average on the basepaths, and putting the ball into play gives him an opportunity to do damage. Most of Lonnie’s highest-leverage hits of the season involve Ramirez scoring. It’s not very often that a weak pop-up to shallow right will score a run, but a strikeout in this situation would do so far less often, if ever.
I wrote way, way back in the beginning of 2016 that aggressive baserunning would need to be the Indians calling card if they wanted to contend that season. While it didn’t always work out, the thinking was that the Tribe offense needed a little bit of extra oomph that it wouldn’t get from its bats. They ended up the third-best team on the basepaths according to FanGraphs, but also finished in the top half of baseball in wOBA, SLG, which many did not expect. Some of that is attributable to the sustained output of Francisco Lindor, but the breakout power of Jose Ramirez cannot be overlooked either.
Now with Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion added to the lineup, it does not appear that the Indians will change habits. Not only is the team improved at the plate, but it remains aggressive on base. It’s not paying off quite yet. The Indians are more than capable of reversing that early season trend and once again proving positive at all aspects of the offensive game.
As proven yesterday, Ramirez is a vital component of that all-around game.
An aggressive, exciting 3rd baseman that feels better in clutch situations? Yes, please. I’ll take as many years of that as we can get.