CLEVELAND, Ohio — What to remember most from Saturday night at Progressive Field?
Will it be Jose Ramirez’s 10-pitch at-bat that ended in a two-run homer? Or the tightrope that Aaron Civale and relievers Cal Quantrill and Nick Wittgren walked to leave the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings? Or maybe catcher Sandy Leon’s third catcher’s interference of the season?
Why don’t we make it none of the above and go with Oscar Mercado getting the first hit of the season off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader and Cesar Hernandez driving him in with a single against a five-man infield for a 4-3 walk-off win. How does that sound?
Hader, the most feared closer in the National League, threw two pitches to Mercado and he sent the second one to the wall in left for a double. Then he wild-pitched Mercado to third before Hernandez delivered a single through Milwaukee’s five-man infield for the Indians first walk-off win of the season. They have won three of their last four and seven of their last nine games.
The hits were the first Hader has allowed this season in 13 appearances covering 11 2/3 innings. The win went to Tribe closer Brad Hand (1-1), who allowed a leadoff double in the ninth to Tyrone Taylor, but pitched out of trouble.
The walk-off celebration was tamer than usual because of the coronavirus safety protocols.
“You can’t really celebrate,” said Hand. “Everybody ran out there and didn’t know what to do. That was our first one this year. We haven’t had a chance to do that. It was kind of different for sure.”
Mercado said he knew Hader hadn’t allowed a hit.
“I know he likes the fastball a lot,” said Mercado. “I was going to set my sights on something hard. He kind of threw it where I was looking to hit the ball.”
Hader’s 12 scoreless appearances to start the season were an MLB record. The opposition was 0-for-35 against him with 10 walks, 18 strikeouts and two hit batsmen.
Milwaukee’s Orlando Arcia tied the score, 3-3, with a leadoff homer in the eighth. Wittgren, who had just pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, allowed the homer into the left field bleachers on a 3-1 pitch.
The Brewers loaded the bases in the seventh with two out. Cal Quantrill hit Keston Hiura with a pitch and Christian Yelich singled. When Leon was called for his third catcher’s interference of the season the bases were loaded. Wittgren relieved to strikeout Daniel Vogelbach.
It was not a game to remember for Leon, who struck out four times and committed two errors.
Ramirez’s homer gave the Indians a 3-1 lead in the fifth. He followed Hernandez’s double with his team-high ninth homer of the season. Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff jumped ahead of Ramirez 0-2, but Ramirez kept the at-bat going for eight more pitches before turning around a 96 mph fastball that just made it over the right field wall, 353 feet from the plate.
“His focus was better today,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar. “He kept fouling off pitches that were not pitches he was able to drive in order to get the pitch he wanted to drive. He finally got a pitch he could handle and drove it out.”
The rally started with Hernandez doubling home Mercado to tie the score, 1-1. Mercado walked with one out and scored on Hernandez’s 14th double of the season, a bolt to the gap in left center. He started the game tied for second place in the AL in doubles.
Civale watched the Indians send eight batters to the plate in the fifth and it may have worked against him. Hiura opened the sixth with his second homer in as many games despite being down in the count 0-2 to make it 3-2. Ryan Braun sent a one-out triple off the wall in right center field to put the heat on Civale.
He walked Vogelbach, a left-handed hitter, but struck out Orlando Arcia, a right-handed hitter. Then he walked Omar Narvaez, another left-handed hitter, to load the bases. He escaped by getting Luis Urias to hit into a force play at second.
The Indians displayed a touch of arrogance when Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Vogelbach hit a two-out double to right to score Hiura from second base. Hiura was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on catcher Leon’s errant pickoff throw to first.
The 270-pound Vogelbach slid into second and was called safe, but Francisco Lindor was confident he’d tagged him in time after taking Tyler Naquin’s throw. Lindor came off the bag and signaled to the bench for a replay. He was so confident, he went right to the dugout, taking most of the infield with him as Alomar challenged the safe call.
It did not take long for the call on the field to be upheld as Lindor and the rest of the infielders had to retake their positions.
Civale allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. He struck out six, walked three and left with a 3-2 lead.
“This was a complete team win,” said Civale.
Woodruff lasted 4 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking three. He allowed three runs on four hits.
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