Your Wahoo Warriors headed into last night’s tilt against the Toronto Blue Jays looking for a sweep. I am trying to be a glass half-full guy when it comes to the Tribe in the Terry Francona era, so let me start with the positives.
The Indians were facing a familiar foe in former White Sox great Mark Buerhle. It seems as though the Tribe faced him almost every opening day for a decade (exaggeration here, but you get the point). Last season’s group would have cowered when a southpaw stepped to the hill, especially when you consider Manny Acta’s patented “all lefty” lineup. Francona kept his regular lineup intact for the third consecutive game. The only minor tweak was moving Mark Reynolds to first base with Nick Swisher as the DH.
Buerhle struck out Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera to open the game, which had the masses thinking “here we go again,” but then two Indians who have started slowly got off the schnide. Jason Kipnis doubled to left center for his first hit of the season and was driven in by Swisher’s ground-rule double. it was Swisher’s first RBI as an Indian. In the fourth inning, trailing 3-1, the Wahoo power attack flexed its muscles. Carlos Santana crushed his first homer of the season off of Buerhle to the seats in left. That was followed by another Reynolds titanic, second-deck blast to tie things at three. Reynolds’ two homers the past two nights traveled a combined 899 feet. Once again, Reynolds showed off that right-handed power stroke the team lacked in 2012. I for one certainly don’t miss the likes of Shelley Duncan, Casey Kotchman, and Johnny Damon regularly hitting sixth and seventh. Santana/Reynolds is quite the upgrade, don’t you think?
In the sixth inning, now trailing 6-3, they got to Buerhle again. Swisher walked to open the frame ahead of Buerhle hitting Michael Brantley with a pitch. The Tribe was in business when Santana laced a ground-rule double to left, scoring Swisher. After Reynolds popped out, Lonnie Chisenhall roped a double to left-center to tie the game and chase Buerhle. One of the big question marks surrounding Chiz was if he would be able to consistently hit left-handed pitching. This was a big step in the right direction for him. While Lonnie Baseball would be stranded at third to end the inning, the Tribe offense had fought back again to stay in the game.
They continued to have to play from behind because their newest starting pitcher, Brett Myers, was throwing batting practice to the Blue Jays.
The old saying is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Myers spent all of 2012 in the bullpen for the Astros and the White Sox. Most of the Spring, the 32-year old veteran was trying to work himself back into a starting role and he struggled (23 runs on 36 hits in 21 innings) but the hope was that once the season started for real, he would get it together.
In his first start as an Indian, he was torched.
From the jump it was a struggle for Myers. He walked Jose Reyes on four pitches. Then two batters later, Jose Bautista got him for a two-run homer to the second deck in left. It was a sign of things to come. In the second, catcher J.P. Arencibia hit a 460-foot shot to center. With two outs in the fifth and the score tied 3-3, Edwin Encarnacion jacked a three-run homer off of Myers.
After the Wahoos came storming back with that three-spot in the sixth, Francona had a decision to make. Myers had only thrown 65 pitches, but it was clear he didn’t have it. Would he send him back out to try and steal one more inning and attempt to save his tired bullpen or would he go to Cody Allen, who had yet to see action in the first two games? Allen was warm and ready to go.
Francona stuck with Myers and he got burned. Arencibia’s second homer of the game – the fourth Myers had given up – sent the Tribe starter to the showers. “He elevated some pitches and the ones that were elevated were pretty flat,” said Francona. “Some balls left the ballpark, but there were also a lot of deep fly balls. That’s an indication.”
Enter Allen who needed to keep the Jays at bay with the Tribe now trailing by a run. Instead, Cody threw a little gasoline on the fire. With one out, Colby Rasmus hit the Blue Jays’ fifth homer of the night, a no-doubter to right field. Emilio Bonafacio then doubled. With two out, Melky Cabrera hit a grounder to Reynolds at first, Allen came over to cover first base and dropped the throw, allowing a key run to score. Reynolds was charged with the error, but Allen has to make that play.
Once again though, the Tribe’s offense scratched and clawed their way closer. Trailing 9-6 Reynolds drove in Nick Swisher with a single off of ex-Indian Esmil Rogers. The first and third two-out threat ended when Rogers K’d Chisenhall. Rogers for some reason seemed to glare into the Tribe dugout on his way off the field.
In the eighth, they would get another run thanks to back to back two-out doubles from Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. Swisher’s walk and Brantley’s infield single loaded the bases for Santana. Here was a big chance to tie or take the lead. Santana hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Bonafacio made a terrific play going to his right to save the Jays bacon.
“If it goes up the middle, we could be talking a different ballgame,” said Swisher. “Either way, I was so proud of the way the guys battled and fought.”
In the end, the deficits were just too much to overcome. Jays closer Casey Janssen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to hand the Indians their first loss of the season. When you score eight runs on 14 hits, you should win the game.
While the offense provided so many highlights, the big story in this one was the struggle of Myers. To his credit, he called himself to the carpet after the game.
“The only person at fault here is me,” said Myers. ”I couldn’t get the ball down tonight. Everything was up. When you pitch up in the zone against these type of hitters in the big leagues, it’s not going to be good.”
It is only one start, but this was not what the Tribe wants to see out of their middle of the rotation, innings eating stabilizer. With the extra inning game a night before, six or seven strong innings would have been nice. But it just wasn’t in the cards. But give the Tribe credit, they fought back time and time again in this one.
“When you score eight runs, you’re probably going to win more than you’re going to lose,” said Reynolds, “The Blue Jays have a great team and we came in on the road and took two out of three. Last night and tonight, we kept battling back. That’s a sign of a good team. We didn’t get down on ourselves. Hopefully we can just keep it rolling.”
The Indians move on to Tampa for a weekend series with the Rays. For the second straight night, they will face a lefty in Matt Moore. I would expect to see Mike Aviles and/or Ryan Raburn get a start tonight against the 24-year old. The Tribe will counter with Zach McAllister.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)