If I’m being honest, I never thought it would happen.
After Francisco Lindor made contact on Matt Foster, I thought the game was over. Unlike Frankie, I thought Luis Robert had the ball in his glove and Cleveland would have to wait another day to clinch a postseason spot. I had my remote ready to turn the whole thing off. Then Lindor’s hit bounced off the centerfield wall and he had to turn on the jets to get to second and I put the remote down and hoped against hope that José Ramírez would get a chance to hit.
I got my wish and the rest is history. Really awesome history.
As Matt Lyons recounted, the bat José used was special. There’s also this amazing stat, uncovered by STATS:
Jose Ramirez of the @Indians is the second player in MLB history to hit a walkoff 3-run homer (or grand slam) while trailing to clinch a playoff berth for his team.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) September 23, 2020
The other was Bobby Thomson for the Giants with his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951.#OurTribe
Before the game, ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted that Ramírez was the leader in fWAR and perhaps a dark horse candidate for MVP. His heroics kept him atop the leaderboard, with 3.2 fWAR to Freddie Freeman’s 3.1 and José Abreu’s 2.8 (second in the AL), a fact that was not lost on Passan.
ahem— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 23, 2020
But even in an MVP-caliber season, how likely was José’s historic blast?
Well, I probably don’t have to tell you that, as a team, Cleveland has one of the worst slugging lineups in baseball. Their collective .370 slugging percentage is 28th among MLB teams, and their isolated power (.143) is only slightly better, ranking 26th. Moreover, White Sox relievers have been quite good this year, allowing just 1.00 home run per nine innings (eighth in MLB) and compiling 2.6 fWAR (seventh in MLB, right behind Cleveland’s 2.8). And regardless of team stats, a home run has occurred on just 0.9% of all pitches this season.
Ramírez was obviously sitting fastball in that situation, and it was a mistake to throw him a fastball because he has a .431 xWOBA against fastball this season. But the location was not terrible:
In that down-and-away location when batting left handed Ramírez has an 18% strikeout rate, his lowest flyball rate (8%) of anywhere in the strike zone, and had no home runs in that location prior to last night. Moreover, just 4.1% of all homeruns hit by left-handed hitters this season have come on balls in that area of the strike zone. In fact, lefties are hitting just .239 against pitches in that location this season, making it one of the best places for pitchers to attack lefties.
So you can’t really fault José Ruiz, and he might not have been in the game if not for Alex Colomé’s back spasms or if Rick Renteria had not been ejected for arguing about Angel Hernandez’s (truly terrible) strike zone. But bench coach Joe McEwing wasn’t crazy to call on him, after all Ramírez’s blast was the first home run he has allowed this season, though he has just five appearances and four innings pitched in 2020.
But even if you’re feeling forgiving for the White Sox, it doesn’t change the fact that José Ramírez had an incredible, perhaps MVP-defining moment for Cleveland. One that will live on for a long time.