Should I start with what a beautiful day it was for the first time in years on Opening Day? Maybe we should talk about Fausto Carmona’s eight strong innings? What about a crowd of 42,000 plus? Nah, can’t do it. There is only one place to start: the bullpen.
Manager Manny Acta had no choice. When you are the home team in a tie game going into the ninth inning, the chic move is to give the ball to your closer in the non-save situation. Carmona had thrown 111 pitches and probably stretched an inning to far to begin with. But Acta was trying to win after all, and clearly has no faith in his bullpen. And why should he? So far the performances have been a hodge-podge of good and bad. Without true closer Kerry Wood, the entire pen is out of whack and nobody has stepped up to snag a particular job. So here was Acta turning over the ball to Chris Perez.
I thought it was the right move. Get the guy who blew the game the day before right back out there. Let him try to rebuild his confidence and prove that the day before was the aberration rather than the rule. The plan was good. The results weren’t. The first three pitches to Joaquin Arias from Perez, were balls.
Immediately, the crowd was on him and it would only get worse.
Arias doubled, putting the lead run in scoring position with nobody out. To make matters worse, Perez botched Taylor Teagarden’s sacrifice attempt by throwing wide of third in attempts to get Arias. So here we were with runners at the corners. The end of the closer’s day came after he threw four straight balls to Elvis Andrus, loading the bases. Acta removed Perez for Jamey Wright and he walked off the field to a chorus of boos.
The fans message was clear: Kerry Wood can’t get back fast enough.
“I’ve never been booed before,” said Perez. “I’d boo too, based on my last two performances. I think there’s some frustration based on the last two years. We had a good spring training. Now we’re 2-5. I understand the fans’ frustration.”
On a beautiful opening day, Tribe fans felt like they deserved better. Wright gave that to them, for at least a five minute span. Old friend Ryan Garko was summoned to pinch hit for the Rangers. Wright managed to get him to weakly pop out to second. Up next was another Tribe Killer, Michael Young. Young strangely swung at Wright’s first pitch and hit a Tailor-made double play to Asdrubal Cabrera, who stepped on second and threw to first to end the rally. The veteran Wright seemed to have saved the day. The hope was that this momentum shift would drive the Tribe to victory.
After a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth against deposed Rangers closer Frank Francisco, Wright was given the ball to keep the Rangers at bay for another inning. Josh Hamilton led off with a single and after a Vladimir Guerrero K, Nelson Cruz crushed Wright’s 1-0 pitch to the left field. Wright put it best after the game: “This game can make you laugh and make you cry.”
The shame of all of this is it wasted a solid performance from Carmona, who gave the Indians their best start of the year. While he threw 111 pitches in his eight innings of work, he allowed just two runs, one of which came on a wild pitch. He pace was good, and he was throwing a good mix of pitches. You have to be excited by what we have seen from the big right-hander.
“It’s very encouraging,” manager Manny Acta said describing Carmona. “Especially after the way he pitched in Spring Training. We wanted him to take that into the season, and he’s done that so far.”
Another problem that seems to be lingering is the lack of offense. Take away Sunday’s eight run outburst and the team has scored just 16 runs in six games. With Grady Sizemore nursing a stiff back and missing the last two games, there is an obvious void. Rookie Michael Brantley (.174) and the catching duo of Mike Redmond (.182) and Lou Marson (.077) certainly aren’t doing their part at the bottom of the order. Brantley in particular seems to be pressing a little. He is just one for his last 15 at-bats. Jhonny Peralta is hitting .174 and Luis Valbuena is sitting at .200. With the bullpen a constant worry, the offense has to step it up, considering its supposed to be the strength of this team. The two runs yesterday came via Shin-Soo Choo’s solo home run in the first and a Peralta sac fly in the sixth.
This heartbreaker was the Tribe’s fourth straight defeat, the last two coming in brutal fashion. Today is a much-needed off day for the Wahoo’s to catch their collective breaths, and rest for Wednesday night where Justin Masterson gets the ball. The Rangers will counter with lefty C.J. Wilson. Hopefully Sizemore will be back in the lineup and the Indians offense can get going.
The unfortunate part of all of this was that the Tribe’s last two days have really been a momentum killer. I know its very early, but with the Cavs playoffs starting this weekend and an apathetic fan base, the team needed a hot start to keep the average fan interested. 2-5 with two bullpen implosions is not what the doctor ordered.
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)