By Mandy Bell
CLEVELAND — There’s no question that the Guardians have found ways to benefit from their youth more often than letting it hinder their success. But if this team wants to make it into the postseason, it needs its veterans to lead the way, which is exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon.
In the first game of the Guardians’ doubleheader against the Twins, starter Shane Bieber was on cruise control, keeping Minnesota off the board until a solo shot in the eighth before handing the ball over to closer Emmanuel Clase in the ninth. And while Bieber did the heavy lifting on the mound, José Ramírez sparked the offense with a first-inning solo homer that helped carry Cleveland to a 5-1 victory at Progressive Field.
Remember when there was concern about Bieber’s waning velocity at the beginning of the season and questions about whether he could be as dominant as he has been over the last few years? It seems we have all the answers we need after his performances the last few months.
In his last 10 starts (including Saturday), Bieber has pitched to a 1.68 ERA, averaging more than six innings per start in that span. And there was no better time to send a red-hot Bieber to the rubber, as the Guardians try to navigate a twin bill on Saturday and won’t be able to enjoy a team off-day for another nine days. Bieber understood his assignment and proceeded to eat up eight strong innings, lowering his ERA against the Twins this season to 2.05 (five earned runs, 26 1/3 frames).
Bieber was able to pitch with the comfort of having a lead from the second inning on, thanks to Ramírez, who entered the day hitting .333 with a 1.041 OPS in his last eight games. In the first inning, Ramírez gave himself a 30th birthday present, smacking his 28th homer of the year, putting him in sole possession of 11th place in club history with 191 career home runs. Ramírez has now hit three long balls on his birthday in his career, which is tied with Jim Thome, Carlos Santana and Rocky Colavito (who he just passed on the home run list) for the most.