The sun was shining. The stadium was completely full. Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson struck out the side in the first and it looked as if we were in for some fun on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
The fun continued in the second inning. After a Carlos Santana walk and a Travis Hafner K, newly minted left fielder Shelley Duncan laced a double down the left field line to get the first rally of the season started against Blue Jays lefty Ricky Romero. Casey Kotchman, the Indians new first basemen, put up a quality at bat before eventually grounding out to first which brought in Santana. It was Actaball at its finest. Kotchman didn’t get a hit, but hitting a ground ball to the right side got the Tribe on the board.
Jason Kipnis would then walk, bringing Jack Hannahan to the plate. Jackie won the third base job in spring training, keeping top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall in AAA for a little longer (which he needs by the way). All Hannahan did was crush a Romero pitch to the seats in right field for a three-run homer. The sell out crowd was loving every second of it.
The four run lead seemed to be insurmountable the way Masterson was dealing. Over eight innings, the Tribe’s ace looked every bit of the top of the rotation starter manager Manny Acta needs him to be. Other than the solo blast he gave up to Toronto home run king Jose Bautista, Masterson was locked in. After eight innings and 99 pitches, he had allowed just one earned run on two hits. He struck out 10 for the second time in his career and walked just one.
“He did everything you want in an ace,” Indians closer Chris Perez said of Masterson. “He dominated them, obviously. Two hits in eight innings with 10 strikeouts. I mean, that’s awesome. I don’t even think he had his best stuff today and he still did that.”
It all seemed like we would go home happy. The Jays weren’t hitting and the Tribe was just three outs away from an opening day victory for the first time since 2008. Then Acta went to his closer.
The man known as “Pure Rage” missed most of spring training with an oblique issue and pitched just three innings to get ready for opening day. The decision was made to bring him North instead of putting him on the DL to build him up a little more, considering he missed the majority of the Spring. That decision looked like the wrong one in hindsight yesterday.
Perez, who lives with his high-90s fastball, couldn’t reach more than 91 mph and had serious command issues. The Tribe’s closer was all over the place, and he Jays took advantage. Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson opened the ninth with back to back singles. Bautista drove Escobar in with a sac fly to center, inching the Jays closer at 4-2. Perez then walked Adam Lind to out the tying runs on base with just one out. Edwin Encarnacion then drilled a Perez fastball off the left field fence. Defensive replacement Aaron Cunningham made a great fake move, playing the ball perfectly off the wall. The problem was his throw to cut-off man Asdrubal Cabrera was a dribbler and pinch runner Rajai Davis scored the tying run with ease.
You can second guess Acta all you want, but Perez is his closer. He felt that he was ready. If Perez does his job, nobody is having that conversation yesterday or this morning.
At that point, the life was completely sucked our of the building. Little did we know just how much more baseball we would be watching. The weather grew cold, and the Tribe bats grew colder. They hadn’t scored since the four-run second, and they wouldn’t cross home plate again.
They certainly had their chances.
In the ninth, Travis Hafner’s lead off single and Cunningham’s sac bunt put the winning run at third with just one out. But both Kotchman and Jason Kipnis failed to come through. In the 12th, they loaded the bases runners with one out. Lefty Luis Perez walked Michael Brantley on four pitches and looked rattled. Instead of being patient and making the wild Perez throw a strike, Asdrubal Cabrera went first pitch swinging against a five-man infield and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
You could just tell right then and there this one wasn’t going to end well.
The game would continue to soldier on thanks to stellar relief pitching on both sides. The Tribe once again showed their strength with Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Tony Sipp pitching four and a third scoreless innings. Manny Acta then handed the ball to the newly acquired Jairo Ascencio. He got out of a 15th inning jam unscathed, which was his second inning of work and returned for the 16th.
Jays rookie Brett Lawrie drew a leadoff walk. Old friend Omar Vizquel, who entered the game in the 12th as that fifth infielder, squared to bunt and sent it back to Ascencio with Lawrie on the move. Instead of getting the sure out, Ascencio threw late and wide to second. With two on and nobody out, catcher J.P. Arrencibia attempted to bunt, and failed. The next pitch he drove deep into the Cleveland night and over the high fence in left field. The blast gave the Jays a 7-4 win in a game they had no business taking.
Said Tribe closer Chris Perez: “Everyone did their job but me. I wasn’t pumped up out there, but I was rushing. Especially when things got sticky. Usually I’m pretty good at slowing stuff down and working through hitters. I don’t know if it was Opening Day or the hometown crowd, but I was definitely rushing.”
“We had three opportunities to win the ballgame and couldn’t get it done,” said Acta. “We’ll take 100 chances like that. I’m sure the majority of the time Chris will close the game, Casey will drive in the run and so will Asdrubal.”
It was just painful. It took five hours and 14 minutes and the Indians were held scoreless the final 13 innings of the game. They left 10 on base and went 1-9 with runners in scoring position in the longest opening day game in Major League history.
“Longest Opening Day game in MLB history, right?” Masterson said. “I guess we got in the record books. At least that’s something.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way, but it did. With a day off today, the Tribe can lick their wounds and get after it Saturday against the Jays. They will send controversial right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound. He will face the hard throwing Brandon Morrow.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)