Guardians take wild card opener as Ramírez homers, Bieber dominates

Wild Card Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Guardians - Game One
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CLEVELAND – The Guardians were certain of two things: Jose Ramirez would deliver, and Amed Rosario touched second base.

Cleveland’s kids were right.

Ramirez connected for a two-run homer, Shane Bieber dominated Tampa Bay for 7 2/3 innings and the young Guardians played with poise in their postseason debut, beating the Rays 2-1 in the wild-card opener on Friday.

Ramirez’s shot off Tampa’s Shane McClanahan in the sixth inning – the Rays initially appealed whether Rosario stepped on second – helped Cleveland end an eight-game postseason losing streak and left baseball’s youngest team one win from advancing in its first season as the Guardians.

Though short on experience, the Guardians seem to have everything else.

“At this point we’re dealing with what we got in that clubhouse,” Bieber said, brushing off the team’s youth. “And that’s a winning ballclub.”

Bieber, rocked in his only other playoff appearance two years ago by the Yankees, was spectacular, allowing just three hits and striking out eight before being lifted the eighth to a thunderous ovation.

Emmanuel Clase took it from there, getting four outs for his first postseason save and finishing a game that took just 2 hours, 17 minutes – the fastest in the postseason since 1999 and Cleveland’s quickest since its World Series-clinching win in 1948.

Jose Siri homered for the Rays, who dropped their sixth straight game overall and turn to starter Tyler Glasnow in Game 2 on Saturday to keep their season alive. The series winner plays the AL East champion New York in the Division Series starting Tuesday in the Bronx.

With 17 players making MLB debuts this season, the Guardians entered the playoffs unsure of what to expect. Fortunately, Ramirez and Bieber had been here before, and both came through for the AL Central champions.

With Cleveland down 1-0 after Siri’s homer in the sixth and running out of outs, Ramirez delivered – as usual.

“Nothing surprises me,” Rosario said of his teammate, who is batting .455 with homer and six RBIs in his last three playoff games. “For me, he’s the best player in baseball.”

Bieber wouldn’t argue.

“He’s inevitable,” Cleveland’s ace said. “To do it right away, that was huge.”

Rosario singled with one out and Ramirez, a four-time All-Star who finished second to Aaron Judge in RBIs in the AL this season, drove a 1-1 changeup over the wall for just his second postseason homer in 97 at-bats.

However, as the red-towel waving fans in Progressive Field screamed, Rays manager Kevin Cash appealed whether Rosario missed second. TV replays showed him slowing and touching the bag, but that didn’t give Guardians manager Terry Francona any comfort as the Rays proceeded to challenge.

“When they start huddling like that, you start to get a little nervous,” he said.

Cash couldn’t tell whether Rosario missed the bag.

“It was kind of grainy,” he said. “But it certainly looked like there was reason to take a look at it and let’s see what New York had to say.”

While the umpires waited for an official ruling, the crowd spontaneously sang “Jose … Jose … Jose,” like never before, prompting Ramirez to pop out for a curtain call. The home run stood and Cleveland had a slim lead it protected.

McClanahan has given up just two homers all season on changeups.

“Shane’s pitch,” Cash lamented.

McClanahan knew he made a mistake.

“Left it up,” the left-hander said. “He’s such a good hitter, you’re not going to fool him with a bad pitch again in the same spot.”

Tampa Bay didn’t get its first hit of Bieber until the fifth, when Harold Ramirez bounced a single into center. But Bieber buckled down and got two outs before striking out Christian Bethancourt, the right-hander’s third punch-out to end an inning.

When Francona pulled him in the eighth, Bieber left to roars and showed his appreciation by clapping into his glove.

“To hear that, to feed off that energy,” Bieber said of Cleveland’s crowd. “It seemed like every time there were two strikes they were willing a strikeout. And that felt great. Kind of helps me personally elevate my game. I don’t suspect I’m the only one on our team that feels that.”

Bieber’s only postseason appearance was equally forgettable. In 2020, when he won the AL Cy Young Award leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA, Bieber was tagged for seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings against the Yankees in the wild card. Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer off him in the first.

REELING RAYS

The Rays have scored just nine runs during their six-game slide.

Still, Cash believes his team will find a way to push the series to a third game.

“We need to be resilient,” he said. “I’m very confident in this group that they will respond the way they need to and compete and give us a good opportunity to win.”

UP NEXT

Rays: Glasnow will be on a pitch count in his third start since returning from Tommy John surgery. It’s his first postseason start since Game 5 of the 2020 World Series. The left-hander threw 64 pitches in his last outing and Cash will add one inning “and 15 to 20 more pitches” to Glasnow’s workload. He’s 2-5 with 6.56 ERA in eight postseason starts.

Guardians: McKenzie makes his first postseason start. The lanky right-hander went 2-0 with a 2.09 ERA in his last six starts, striking out 41 in 38 2/3 innings. More importantly, he only walked five after being plagued by wildness earlier this season.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.