CLEVELAND — José Ramírez connected for a two-run homer, Shane Bieber dominated Tampa Bay for 7 2/3 innings and the young Cleveland Guardians played with poise in their postseason debut, beating the Rays 2-1 in the wild-card opener on Friday.
Ramírez’s shot off Shane McClanahan in the sixth inning helped Cleveland end an eight-game postseason losing streak and left the club one win from advancing in its first season as the Guardians.
Bieber, rocked in his only other playoff appearance two years ago, allowed just three hits and struck out eight before being lifted with a runner on in the eighth.
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. Cleveland’s closer led the majors with 42 saves in the regular season.
Jose Siri homered for the Rays, who dropped their sixth straight game overall and must win Game 2 on Saturday to force a decisive Game 3. The series winner plays the AL East champion New York Yankees in the Division Series starting Tuesday in the Bronx.
With 17 players making MLB debuts, the Guardians entered lacking playoff experience. However, Ramírez and Bieber have been here before, and both came through for the AL Central champions.
And the Guardians, who played “small ball” all season to win an unexpected division title, leaned on power for this win.
With Cleveland down 1-0 and running out of outs, Ramírez delivered - as usual.
Amed Rosario singled with one out in the sixth off McClanahan, and Ramírez, 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.
As the red-towel waving fans in Progressive Field screamed, Rays manager Kevin Cash appealed whether Rosario missed second. TV replays showed Ramirez slowing and touching the bag.
While the umpires waited for an official ruling, the crowd spontaneously sang “Jose … Jose … Jose,” like never before, prompting Ramírez to pop out for a curtain call. The home run stood and Cleveland had a slim lead it protected.
Siri’s one-out homer in the sixth - just the second hit allowed by Bieber - gave the Rays a 1-0 lead. Siri flew out to deep center in his first at-bat in third before driving a 1-0 pitch over the fence.
Tampa Bay didn’t get its first hit of Bieber until the fifth, when Harold Ramírez 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 he was lifted, Bieber received a thunderous ovation he tried to return by clapping into his glove.
Both Shanes, McClanahan and Bieber, were looking to rebound from poor playoff outings.
As a rookie last season, McClanahan pitched five scoreless innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against Boston. Called on to pitch in relief in Game 4, he gave up five runs and recorded only two outs and then took out his frustration on a chair in the tunnel in Fenway Park.
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 belted a two-run homer off him in the first.
Guardians manager Terry Francona got to the ballpark at 6 a.m., driving the usual route on a scooter from his downtown residence. The streets were empty, six hours ahead of the 12:07 first pitch.
“Not much going on,” said Francona, a creature of habit who wanted to get in a pre-game swim.
The unusually early starting time knocked some players off their routines.
“I’m not necessarily a morning person,” Guardians Game 2 starter Triston McKenzie said. “I woke up with a lot of energy.”
Rays: LHP Tyler 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.
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