Opening Day is all about the pageantry of the grand old game. Fireworks and balloons. A fresh start with fresh faces. It is a chance for a team to capture the city’s imagination for at least one day. Here in Cleveland, with a new era of baseball upon us, the Tribe welcomed a packed house of fans decked out in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue.
With a city full of apathetic baseball fans, you get one chance to make your mark in front of a sellout crowd. There were 41,567 people inside of Progressive Field yesterday. Of those, probably a third of them will go to this game and make up their minds if they should go back based on this one game. Right or wrong, the Tribe gets that one opportunity to bring in that casual fan.
With that chance, manager Terry Francona turned to Ubaldo Jimenez, the team’s number two starter in name only. Look, we all know what Ubaldo is at this point, yet here we are on year three of hoping that he finds his old Colorado form. His first start in Toronto last week was encouraging, but then again, so was his first start in 2012 where he had a no-hitter going into the seventh. The problem with Ubaldo is that you never know which guy is going to show up. Fausto Carmona post-2007 was the exact same way. But when you are counting on a guy to be a top of the rotation starter yet he really is a fifth starter, it is going to present issues from time to time. Sometimes it is there, sometime it isn’t.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, bad Ubaldo made his first appearance in 2013.
After recording the first out of the game, Ubaldo lost his command. He walked Robinson Cano and fell behind in the count to Kevin Youkilis before giving up a single. Up to the plate stepped our old friend, DH Travis Hafner, who received a nice ovation from the crowd in pregame introductions. Say what you want about Pronk’s inability to stay healthy since 2007, but nobody will deny the fact that he was one of the nicer guys to come through here. The Indians, most likely Francona in particular, were ready to let Hafner move on. So here he was, facing his old team for the first time in standard road Yankees gray.
Ubaldo did Hafner a huge favor. Everyone knows he loves fastballs. Because he was all over the place, Pronk sat on a 90 MPH get-me-over fastball and deposited it over the center field fence for a three-run homer. Indians fans throughout the stadium and the country for that matter all shook their heads in disgust. “Where was that these past few years” I heard from several places surrounding me. It had to feel amazing to Hafner, whom the Indians decided to pay $2.75 million to go away.
The Wahoo offense did their part to take Jimenez off the hook right away. The Rafael Betancourt-like slow working Hiroki Kuroda walked Michael Bourn on a 3-2 pitch to get the party started for the Tribe. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single, just his third hit on this young season. The Indians were in business. Jason Kipnis, a guy who entered this game struggling with his bat, hit a deep fly ball to the wall in right to bring in Bourn. Nick Swisher, in his first home at-bat, joined the hit parade with a single of his own. Michael Brantley, off to a great start in 2013, followed with a ground ball to the right side. Swisher, moving on the play, stopped to let the ball pass him. He did a tremendous job of getting in the way of first baseman Lyle Overbay, and the ball went right in the hole, scoring Cabrera. After Carlos Santana walked to load the bases, Mark Reynolds hit a deep fly ball to left that everyone at Progressive Field thought was a Grand Slam. Instead, it was a sac fly that tied the game at three.
“I was on second base when Mark came up and the crowd started screaming,” said Brantley. “I got goose bumps.”
It was all down hill from there. In the third, Cano doubled and came home on an RBI single from, you guessed it, Hafner, who fought one off and drove it right up the middle. It was Pronk 4 Tribe 3. On the day, he would go 2-3 with three runs scored and four RBIs. It was sweet redemption for Hafner.
“My whole approach right now is to keep things as simple as possible,” said Hafner. “I wasn’t really brought in to hit in the middle of the order. I was kind of expecting to hit down further. But it’s a great opportunity for me, so I’m just trying to contribute the best I can to the team.”
“They’re passionate fans and I knew with me playing for the Yankees, the cheers wouldn’t last long,” Hafner said.
An inning later, Ubaldo’s inability to control the running game came back to haunt him again. Nobody was worse against opposing baserunners in 2012 than Jimenez. With two outs, Yankee backup catcher Chris Stewart laced a single to center. Not that he is a threat to steal a base, but Ubaldo never even looked Stewart’s way. He walked to second without drawing a throw from Santana. On the next pitch, Brett Gardner blooped a single to shallow center to bring in the fifth run for the Yankees.
In the fourth, I was getting my son a slice of pizza as Ubaldo gave up a solo homer to Cano, who came to Cleveland hitting just .130. After he walked Hafner, who reached for his third consecutive time, Jimenez was yanked in favor of Matt Albers, who gave up back to back singles to Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki (which scored Hafner). The book was closed on Ubaldo: four and a third, seven runs on seven hits, four strikeouts, and three walks. In other words, the kind of stuff we have come to know from him.
“I got to the mound and I just tried to get it going, but nothing was working,” Jimenez said. “Not the fastball. Not the delivery, breaking balls. Nothing.”
Why is it that we hear this from him several times a season? I credit him for his honesty, but still.
It was all over but the shouting at this point, but the Yankees piled on four more in the next two innings off of Albers and lefty Rich Hill. This included Cano’s second home run of the game. “When Cano starts feeling good, he can hit anybody, anywhere,” said Francona. “That’s the last guy we want to get hot.”
To add injury to insult, Santana got his signals crossed up with Chris Perez in the eighth inning and took a pitch off his thumb and had to be replaced by Lou Marson. X-Rays after the game were negative and he is listed as day to day.
The 11-6 loss was ill-timed to say the least, but it is time to move on. That’s the beauty of baseball. Tomorrow brings a new day and a new game. It is up to Carlos Carrasco to get the Tribe back on track as he makes his first start of the year. He will face old reliable, lefty Andy Pettitte, who went eight innings of one run ball in his first start last week.
Photo via John Kuntz/PD