Coming into Spring, the race for the fifth starter was supposedly even. David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez, and Josh Tomlin all were allegedly in a battle, but within the first two starts of the Spring for each, it became abundantly clear that there was one man for the job, Tomlin.
The right-hander has endeared himself to Manager Manny Acta by pounding the strike zone and minimizing mistakes. He was so good during the Spring that he won the job in a walk, and was moved into the #4 spot ahead of Mitch Talbot.
So onto the field walked Tomlin for his first start of the season last night, facing the big, bad Boston Red Sox, an angry team who came to town after being swept in Texas. Taking a look at the Sox lineup last night, the 1-7 read like an AL All-Star team. But from Jacoby Ellsbury to Carl Crawford to Dustin Pedroia and all on the way down, the Sox had no answer for JT.
For seven innings, he stayed away from the middle of the plate and kept Boston completely at bay to the tune of one run on three hits. It bears repeating, this was a lineup that features six former all stars and two former MVP’s.
“Josh Tomlin was fantastic,” Acta said. “He had their lefties off balance and had full control of his four-pitch repertoire. He deserves all the credit.”
Crawford, one of the Sox big offseason acquisitions went 0-4 against the Tribe’s unassuming starter. He came away impressed. He kept me off-balance pretty good,” said Crawford. “He used all his pitches. He did a good job mixing them up — never repeating. He did a good job tonight.”
While Tomlin was handling his business, the Indians were doing just enough at the plate to get to Boston’s Josh Beckett, a notorious Tribe killer.
The power-armed former World Series MVP danced around some trouble in the first and third innings, but was unable to do the same in the fourth. Travis Hafner’s one-out double off the wall in right-center started things for the Tribe. Orlando Cabrera, who is off to a .375 start hitting sixth, singled Hafner in while advancing to second on the throw home. Hafner must be lauded for his base-running. While he obviously won’t be confused with Kenny Lofton, Hafner is underrated on the base paths. He was on the move all the way on Cabrera’s bloop single and was able to score the tying run.
Austin Kearns walked putting two on with one out. Matt LaPorta, in a another RBI spot, K’d, bringing up Jack Hannahan. For the second time in four games, the Tribe’s third base placeholder came up with a big two-out RBI single to give the Indians a 2-1 lead. It was his fourth RBI in four games.
The Wahoos added another run off of Beckett in the fifth with some good baseball. Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double. The struggling Shin-Soo Choo moved AC over with a groundout to the right side, and Carlos Santana brought him in with a sac fly.
Get em on, get em over, get em in.
After seven innings and 91 pitches on a cold night, Acta turned things over to his bullpen. Tony Sipp came out for the eighth to face 8-9-1 and disposed of all three on seven pitches. Now the stage was set for the first save opportunity for Chris Perez.
The scoreboards all throughout the park showed flames and the speakers blasted the song “Firestarter.” Out came “Pure Rage” from the bullpen and the crowd of just over 9,000 came alive. Perez quickly retired Crawford for the first out, but gave up a single to Pedroia, bringing the tying run to the plate. After falling behind Adrian Gonzalez, he worked a fly out to Austin Kearns in left for the second out. However, it wasn’t over.
It was almost Bob Wickman-esque. Perez couldn’t find the plate and walked Kevin Youkilis, bringing David Ortiz to the plate. Again, Perez was having a problem throwing strikes. After two straight balls, Acta came out to talk to his closer.
“I was thinking about it, after I fell behind 2-0, just put him on,” Perez said. “I’d rather face Drew anyway. I think my stuff matches up better against Drew. He (Acta) wanted me to attack Ortiz. It worked. Give an assist to Manny.”
Oritz swung away on 3-0 and fouled a pitch off. The next pitch was a line-shot right at Kearns in left that ended the game.
As easy as it was for Tomlin and Sipp, Perez walked that tightrope. But in the end, it was a W for the Tribe, their second straight after losing their first two. The Sox have now lost their first four games. No team that has started a season 0-4 has ever won the World Series.
Tonight the two teams go back at it at Progressive Field. Mitch Talbot makes his first start of the season. He will be faced by Daisuke Matsuzaka.
(Photo via Chuck Crow/PD