April 17, 2018 – Lindor Home Town Home Run in Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico has history as an MLB venue, but rarely has there been more hype on the island than the April 2018 series between the Indians and Twins.
San Juan’s Estadio Hiram Bithorn is named after the first Puerto Rican MLBer Cubs pitcher Hiram Bithorn. It served as a second home stadium for the Montreal Expos for 22 games in the 2002 and 2003 campaigns. The dimensions of the stadium were expanded in 2002 to match Stade Olympique in Montreal due to an MLB rule that a teams home stadium dimensions must remain the same throughout the season (thank you, Bill Veeck and the 1947 Indians).
Although the Twins were technically the home team for the series, Francisco Lindor was by far the hometown favorite in Game 1. After an emotional introduction in front of his family, Lindor led off the game with a long fly-out to the warning track. After this initial scare, Jake Odorizzi settled in for the Twins. He held the Indians scoreless until the top of the 5th.
Twins left-fielder Eddie Rosario–also a Puerto Rican with family in the stands–led off the 4th with a single off Corey Kluber. This would be one of only five hits given up by Kluber over 6 ⅔ innings. However, Rosario was left on base and the game remained scoreless into the top of the 5th.
After striking out Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin Odorizzi was set to face Bradley Zimmer. The rookie center fielder drove a line drive into deep right field and ended up on second. The 0-2 pitch to Lindor escaped the glove of Twins catcher Jason Castro and Zimmer advanced to 3rd on the passed ball.
Lindor worked himself into a full count, and on the 6th pitch launched a homer to deep right field. The shortstop known for his smile and enthusiasm was in his element. Lindor rounded the bases waving to the crowd and was promptly summoned from the dugout for a curtain call.
Francisco later described the trip around the bases, “Unreal. Unreal. It’s a dream…definitely a dream playing in front of the crowd. How the crowd got up. The home run…it was special. Something I will never forget.”
After another quick-work inning by Kluber, Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley led off the top of the 6th with back-to-back home runs.
Brian Dozier drove in Max Kepler to get the Twins on the board in the bottom of the 7th and chase Corey Kluber. Andrew Miller replaced Kluber and recorded two strikeouts in 1 ⅓.
Yonder Alonso added to the Tribe lead in the top of the 8th, making it a 6-1 game. Cody Allen walked Max Kepler to lead off the 9th, but secured the final three outs to give the Tribe their first win outside of the lower 48.
The next day, in Game 16 the tables would be turned as the crowd was behind Twins starter Jose Berrios who pitched seven scoreless innings to start off a 16-inning marathon that lasted over 5 hours and ended when Josh Tomlin gave up a single to backup center fielder Ryan LaMarre.
Despite supportive statements via social media, the Twins organization was reportedly unhappy to give up two “home” dates on their calendar to go to Puerto Rico. Personally, I would love to see more early-season games in neutral locations. Although the Caribbean stadiums generally have a lower capacity and less-than-Major League amenities, the energy of 18,000 plus in Hiram Bithorn is a welcome change from the sparse crowds in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, or any number of cold-weather cities for April baseball.