Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez likes to play such aggressive baseball on the base paths, the first-year skipper doesn’t even have a sign for stealing.
Because Rodriguez’s young Double-A players almost always have a green light to run as they see fit, Rodriguez instead will occasionally employ a no-stealing sign for the rare instances he’d prefer a runner stay put.
In Sunday’s 4-1 victory over visiting Reading, Rodriguez didn’t need a sign either way.
Instead, while coaching third base, he glanced at Jose Ramirez on third and simply asked, “an you steal home plate or are you afraid?”
Although initially a bit taken aback by the sudden challenge, Ramirez quickly responded, “I’m not afraid.”
“I saw the pitcher putting his head down and I looked at (Rodriguez) and he looks at me asks what I am doing here and I thought, ‘alright, I got the OK to go.’ But I was thinking about it.”
As soon as Rodriguez quipped, “well, what are you doing here? You should have been gone two pitches ago,” the 5-foot-9, 165-pounder took off in quest of his league-leading 37th steal of the season.
“We had a lefty at the plate in (Carlos) Moncrief hitting against a left-handed pitcher,” Rodriguez said. “So Moncrief gets to two strikes with a lefty on the mound who has a long delivery to home plate and with the third baseman playing way back.”
Ramirez’s gutsy play handed the Aeros a 2-1 lead and coupled with a pair of solo home runs, propelled the Aeros to a three-game homestand sweep. The exciting victory capped a weekend of baseball at Canal Park watched by a total of 22,639 fans - a figure highlighted by Saturday night’s sellout.
Ramirez didn’t make it home standing up in the stunning straight steal, although Fightin Phils’ starting pitcher Jesse Biddle appeared to do a double take before throwing home. Instead, Ramirez, 20, safely slid in safe around catcher John Suomi’s attempted tag for his second steal of home in his three-year minor league career.
Successfully executing the play was just another example of why Rodriguez has repeatedly said all season how impressed he is with Ramirez’s advanced feel for the game.
“He’s been playing the game forever and he’s not afaid to take chances,” Rodriguez said. “He’s litterlly playing the game, enjoying it. There’s no rules, he’s just goes out and has fun.”
The heads up play is even more impressive considering the natural second baseman has had his hands full the last week filling in at third base due in part to the loss of shortstop Francisco Lindor. The Indians second-best prospect, according to Baseball America, said he’s been shut down with a nagging back injury for the remainder of the season.
“They told me a few days ago,” Lindor said. “I want to play, still want to still be out there. But I respect the decision. Now, I’ll just be in the dugout learning all I can from there. I’m not going to sot around and waste this time.”
Without Lindor, Ramirez made his fourth start of the season (all since Aug. 13th) at third base.
“The organization wanted to see if Ramirez can handle the position,” Rodriguez said. “We all know he’s a very good second baseman who can handle short, but third base is a different angle. But that’s why we’re playing him there, so he can get that experience.”
Despite grounding out to end the third, Moncrief led off the sixth inning in his next at bat with a solo homer to right center field, his 15th longball of the season pushing the Aeros advantage to 3-1.
The Aeros added a late insurance run in the eighth inning when right fielder Cedric Hunter led off with a solo home run against Reading reliever Hector Neris. On the very next pitch, Neris hit Aeros first baseman Jesus Aguilar on the arm and was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Billy Cunha.
Aguliar entered the game with a franchise-high tying 97 RBI, needing just one more to record a new team high. Aguilar flew out to right in the first inning, and then grounded out to short in his next two at bats before getting beaned in his final plate appearance of the day.
“It was obvious what (Neris) did,” Rodriguez said. “They may not have known on that side he was going to do it, but after he did, it was clear he did it with a purpose.”