Well, that was certainly something, wasn’t it?
I just got home, and amazingly enough, the drive from Cleveland was shorter than the game itself as the Blue Jays and Indians played their way into the history books – the longest Opening Day game (by innings) in major-league history went to the visitors, the first salvo in The Battle For Spring Training Significance was won by the top seed, and it was high drama far more than it wasn’t.
Ricky Romero had a brutal second inning, struggling with his command, walking a pair and hanging a 2-2 curveball to Jack Hannahan that wound up in the seats for a three-run homer, and that one swing looked as though it would be more than enough as Indians’ starter Justin Masterson had the Jays eating out of his good right hand, allowing only a run on two hits through eight brilliant innings. Through the first seven, the Blue Jays’ two hits – an Adam Lind double and a Jose Bautista solo homer – were the only two balls they’d hit out of the infield. Masterson was carving them up, but 99 pitches on Opening Day was enough, and with a seemingly-comfortable three-run lead, Tribe skipper Manny Acta went to his closer, Chris Perez, to slam the door shut in the 9th.
Not his best idea.
Perez gave up back-to-back singles to Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson to open the not-so-final frame, and Bautista followed with a shot to deep right-centre that was knocked down by a pretty brisk wind, so instead of a game-tying three-run homer, it was only a sacrifice fly. Perez followed by walking Lind, and Rajai Davis came in to pinch-run, which was a brilliant move as Edwin Encarnacion then absolutely murdered a ball with which the wind was even more upset, and what would have been a go-ahead three-run shot became a two-run double off the left field wall that tied the game at fours. Lind doesn’t score on that hit, and Davis did easily. Encarnacion then got a little greedy with his secondary lead and broke early on a Brett Lawrie comebacker that was snared by Perez, and was erased trying to scamper back to second, but the blunder didn’t matter as Lawrie got to second base anyway, thanks to a walk to Eric Thames. That was it for Perez, and Vinnie Pestano came in to get J.P. Arencibia to ground out to third to end the inning.
With Lind out of the game, Bautista grabbed a trapper and moved in to play first base while Davis stayed in the game in right, and Jose was tested immediately. Travis Hafner led off the bottom of the 9th with a line single to centre that Colby Rasmus allowed to skip past him for an extra base, putting the winning run on second against Francisco Cordero with nobody out. Aaron Cunningham then bunted up the first-base line and Bautista handled it beautifully, as he also did Casey Kotchman’s grounder to first that followed – checking the runner at third then making the play himself.
The Indians’ failure to score there led to seven innings and two hours’ worth of free baseball, as the Blue Jays’ bullpen put on a clinic while the Jays’ hitters missed a few opportunities to take the lead. Davis, without whom the game would never have gone to extras, had the most chances, coming up with two on and two out in the 10th and popping up, the bases loaded and two out in the 12th and flying out to the warning track in left, and then strapping on the goat horns in the 15th when he popped up a bunt and watched it float towards third instead of taking off for first base. Hannahan allowed the ball to drop in front of him, and with all three runners frozen, started an easy 5-4-3 double play to get the Tribe out of trouble. I have no idea what Davis was thinking there – he just froze – except that maybe he figured it was an infield fly and he’d be called out automatically. Doesn’t make a difference, though, you have to run. If he takes off, it’s runners on the corners and one out, and he’s probably stealing second on the next pitch. Instead, there remained a runner on third and two out, and Encarnacion grounded to third to end it.
The Tribe’s big chance came in the bottom of the 12th, when they put two on with one out against Carlos Villanueva, who was working his third inning of relief. John Farrell went to Luis Perez, who walked Michael Brantley on four pitches to load the bases. It was then that Farrell took a page from Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon’s books, calling Eric Thames in and replacing him with Omar Vizquel, who went out behind second base to act as a fifth infielder. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grounder to short and, with nerves of steel, Yunel Escobar decided to eschew the force at home and start a 6-4-3 double play that got the Jays out of the inning. If Cabrera had beaten the relay, the game was over, but Escobar and Johnson got it turned.
Even though Vizquel never set foot on the outfield grass, he’s listed as having been the left fielder for those two outs (he moved to first the next inning, with Bautista going back out to right and Davis shifting to left), which is the first time in his career that he’s “played” left field.
Perez went on to pitch four no-hit innings of relief, though he did walk three, and the Blue Jays finally won it in the 16th when Lawrie walked and, with the hit-and-run on, Vizquel hit a bouncer back to the mound on which Indians’ reliever Jairo Asencio, making just his 10th big-league appearance, made the horrible decision to try to get the out at second. His throw wasn’t good, but it wouldn’t have mattered – Lawrie had it beat by plenty. J.P. Arencibia, who was 0-for-6 at the time, followed by blasting one through the wind to deep left field for the three-run homer that two of his teammates had missed out on back in regulation, giving the Blue Jays the lead for good.
Arencibia loves season debuts, apparently. He homered twice in his major-league debut in 2010 and went deep two more times on Opening Day of last season. He made us wait a while for this one, but ultimately came through with the big swing his team needed to capture a come-from-behind win.
Perez came out to start the bottom of the 16th, despite it being a save situation and Farrell having held on to Sergio Santos all night waiting for just such an occasion. Evidently there was some miscommunication, as Santos was halfway to the mound from the bullpen and had to turn back. There’s a new rule this season (news to us) that once a pitcher goes out to warm up for an inning, he must face a batter. Perez did, getting Jason Donald to ground out, and in so doing removed the save situation, but Santos came out to get the last two outs anyway.
In all, the Blue Jays’ bullpen – all seven members – combined to throw eleven innings of four-hit shutout in relief of the shaky Romero. Perez and Villanueva threw 6 1/3 between them, so they’re likely out for a couple of days, but everyone else will be fresh and ready to go for Saturday’s second game of the season. The game showed off the tremendous depth in the bullpen, that Jason Frasor is the guy you can go to in the 6th inning down by three because there are so many other good pitchers behind him. Frasor, Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen pitched the 6th, 7th and 8th in a game the Jays were trailing 4-1. You won’t see that kind of quality in that situation with any other bullpen; other teams would need to bring in their 6th or 7th reliever, who would be sort of crappy and likely allow the deficit to grow by at least a run or two, if not more. That won’t happen with the Blue Jays, and that will lead to a few more comeback wins they might not otherwise have been able to secure.
Amazingly, the Blue Jays picked up the win despite the bottom of their order having a terrible time of it. Lawrie, Thames/Vizquel, Arencibia and Rasmus – batting in the last four spots in the order – combined to go 1-for-26 in the game, though the only hit did happen to be rather massive.
It was a phenomenal way to begin the season, especially because so much air had leaked out of the balloon because of Romero’s struggles and the whole two-hits-over-the-first-eight-innings thing. What do they do for an encore? We’ll find out on Saturday.
You can’t have 16 innings of baseball and not follow it with a fine edition of The Blue JaysTalk (hey, they put the “blue” back in, so why not us, too?), and here it is, for your listening pleasure:
After an off-day Friday, the Jays and Indians get back at it Saturday afternoon, with pitcher-no-longer-thrower Brandon Morrow taking the ball against Tribe righty Ubaldo Jimenez. The opener is going to be an awfully tough act to follow, but we’re expecting a good time and we’ll have it all for you on the Blue Jays Radio Network beginning with the pre-game show at 12:30PM Eastern – join us, won’t you?
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590. You can find the 16th-inning hero @jparencibia9.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most, and I’ll get to the ones in the queue very shortly!