J-Ram leads way to Cleveland’s 1st win in a week

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OAKLAND — The Guardians’ losing streak has been snapped.

Cleveland needed a win and although it didn’t come easily, the club was able to fight its way back from every deficit it fell into in its 9-8 victory over the A’s at Oakland Coliseum on Friday night.

Andres Gimenez launched a crucial third-inning grand slam to get his team back in the game after falling into a three-run hole. And even though the A’s got back on top later in the game, Josh Naylor stepped up in the seventh to launch the go-ahead two-run blast that secured the win.

Not only did the Guardians desperately need a victory to snap the seven-game losing skid, but they benefited even more from coming out on top after a rigorous fight to take home their first win over a club with a .500 or better record.

The team has been confident in its identity since the beginning of Spring Training, but there were still three things we were able to learn from Friday’s victory:

1. J-Ram continues to be … well, J-Ram
It’s hard to imagine where the Guardians would be without Jose Ramirez. Even though the team has had its fair share of struggles (especially offensively), Ramirez has found a way to capitalize on nearly every clutch moment he’s been granted. And that didn’t change in the series opener.

Ramirez went 2-for-3 with two walks, and his pair of hits came at key times. He got his team on the board with a first-inning homer before setting Naylor up for the chance to put Cleveland in the lead in the seventh with a two-run double, bringing Ramirez’s RBI total to 28 — the most in the Majors.

“He’s good,” A’s starter Frankie Montas said. “He’s been doing this for a while and he’s locked in right now. Everything you throw, he’s swinging. When hitters get to that point where their confidence level is really high, it’s tough to get them out.”

When the offense scuffles as often as it has so far this season, it’s easy for teams to pitch around the hottest bat in the lineup like Ramirez’s. Yet somehow he’s remained unbelievably consistent. Of his 20 contests this season, he’s been held hitless in just three, while not only outpacing all other hitters in RBIs, but also leading MLB in slugging percentage (.760).

“He’s getting pitched so tough,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “But his at-bats are phenomenal.”

2. Stephan has earned high-leverage role
From Rule 5 Draft pick heading into the 2021 season to this year’s most dominant relief arm, Trevor Stephan has made the ultimate progression in a short period of time. He started as a hurler whom the Guardians wanted to take a chance on and were hoping to work into games early last season to determine what he could do. The organization obviously saw the potential in him to take him in the Rule 5 Draft, guaranteeing his place on the active roster for the duration of the season. But it would’ve been hard to imagine what he was going to blossom into in just one year.

Stephan proved why he’s been trusted with more high-leverage innings in Friday’s win, getting the ball for the seventh and eighth innings to hold onto a one-run lead after the Guardians came back for the second time that night. The righty didn’t even break a sweat in not giving up a hit, preserving his sparkling 0.00 ERA.

“You think back a year and the progression he’s made and now we’re trying to get to a point in a game where we’re getting him the ball,” Francona said. “That’s a pretty big compliment to that young kid.”

3. Guardians discover their resiliency
Cleveland expected to encounter bumps in the road this season. It’s impossible to avoid when you’re transitioning to a group of young players with little experience. But with youth comes grit and enthusiasm — something the team is trying to learn to use to its advantage, no matter how difficult some of times will be.

“They showed a lot of character in battling back,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Terry Francona team.”

Not only did the team secure a much-needed victory to bring some positive vibes back into its clubhouse, it was reminded that the offense can support Ramirez’s efforts and can keep the Guardians in contention even when the pitching struggles — something it’s hoping not to forget too soon.

“I was happy because you don’t want to fall into that rut where if something goes wrong, then, ‘Oh no, here we go again,'” Francona said. “Rather, ‘Let’s keep going.'”