He got them going early Sunday with Celine Dion in the clubhouse, and hours later Alexei Ramirez sent his White Sox teammates home equally fired up.
The shortstop’s game-winning, two-run home run salvaged a cold, miserable day at U.S. Cellular Field as the White Sox shook off a blown save and a potential heartbreaking loss with a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 14,281.
After previously extending his season-opening hitting streak to 13 games with a third-inning single, Ramirez ripped a first-pitch fastball from John Axford into the home bullpen as the White Sox beat Cleveland — in a game twice delayed by rain — for the third time in four tries in the teams’ first meeting. The homer made a victor of closer Matt Lindstrom, who blew his second save in three tries as he allowed a pair of unearned runs.
“At that time, I didn’t feel any cold at all,” Ramirez said through the team’s manager of cultural development, Lino Diaz. “That was a great moment. The most important thing is we won the game.”
Until Ramirez’s heroics it looked as if a fragile White Sox bullpen that entered with a 7.53 ERA had struck again.
The White Sox took a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth inning after Marcus Semien’s solo homer in the bottom of the eighth.
But Lindstrom couldn’t hold it.
Combined with an inning-opening error by Jose Abreu, the Indians got four men on in the top of the ninth inning and scored twice. An RBI single by David Murphy tied the game, and a Lindstrom wild pitch with two outs put the Indians ahead 3-2.
But Jordan Danks drew a leadoff walk against Axford and stole second base.
After Alejandro De Aza popped out, Ramirez hammered a 93-mph fastball from Axford over the fence in left for the second walk-off homer of his career. Ramirez, who is second in the American League with 21 hits, also had a game-winning homer on April 12, 2011.
“He's been swinging a hot bat, that's for sure,” manager Robin Ventura said. “In that situation, I don't know if it mattered what he threw, he was probably going to take a pretty good hack at it. But he's been hot. He's been knocking in a lot of runs, a lot of big runs for us early.”
Through 13 games, Ramirez, who also blasted a pair of Dion tunes — including “My Heart Will Go On” — before batting practice to the joy of his teammates, has a .420/.463/.680 slash line with three homers and 12 RBIs in 54 plate appearances. Prior to this season, Ramirez has never had an OPS of higher than .701 in April, and his career mark is .643. He attributes it to feeling more confidence in his seventh year in the majors and feeling prepared.
Ramirez also admits he was geared up for Axford’s first pitch.
“Everybody knows me as an aggressive hitter,” Ramirezi said. “I’m going to go for a good pitch. I’m going to go looking for a good pitch to hit, and when I get it I’m going to swing at it. That’s what happened. I got a good pitch. He’s a really good pitcher and he just left me pitch up there and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Semien did too.
He ripped a 3-2 sinker from Indians starter Corey Kluber over the bullpen in left to put the White Sox ahead by a run with one out in the eighth.
The White Sox didn’t do much else against Kluber, who allowed just the two runs and struck out six over 7 1/3 innings. Dayan Viciedo, who went 2-for-3, singled in the White Sox only other run in the fourth.
But the combination of a slow offensive day and rain delays of 75 minutes (before first pitch) and 45 minutes couldn’t stop the White Sox.
Perhaps it’s the makeup of this new club. Or perhaps it was Ramirez’s pregame music selection.
“The way things have been going lately, no game’s over just because we’re down a run,” Danks said. “At times last year when we’d get down by runs, we were beaten. This year’s a different team. We battle back.”