The Toronto Blue Jays are determined to have a special season.
They opened it by making history.
J.P. Arencibia hit a three-run homer in the 16th inning to send the Blue Jays, who rallied to force extras with a three-run ninth, to a 7-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday in the longest opening-day game ever in the major leagues.
A game that seemed so routine for several hours wound up extraordinary.
”I guess it’s pretty cool now,” said Arencibia, who wasn’t thrilled at catching all 16 innings. ”I’m glad to be on the winning end.”
Arencibia was 0 for 6 with three strikeouts before he connected off Indians reliever Jairo Asencio.
The marathon eclipsed the previous longest openers — 15 innings between Cleveland and Detroit on April 19, 1960, and 15 innings between Philadelphia and Washington on April 13, 1926.
According to STATS LLC, the Indians-Blue Jays opener was the longest of 1,360 opening-day games played since 1901.
”If you’re going to break records you might as well do it on opening day,” said Indians All-Star closer Chris Perez, who was able to show some humor after allowing the Blue Jays to come back from a 4-1 deficit in the ninth. ”No position player wants to be out there for 16 innings on opening day. I feel terrible.
”Everybody did their job today except me.”
Luis Perez, Toronto’s seventh pitcher, worked four scoreless innings for the win and Sergio Santos got two outs to end the 5-hour, 14-minute game.
Jose Bautista homered and hit a sacrifice fly for Toronto, which did next to nothing for eight innings against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson before storming back in the ninth.
Jack Hannahan hit a three-run homer in the second to give Cleveland a 4-0 lead against Ricky Romero. But the Indians didn’t score again, blanked for 14 innings by Toronto’s pitchers to disappoint a sellout crowd of 43,190 that thinned to just a few thousand die-hards by the end.
An opener that began in clear skies and bright sunshine ended just after twilight as the sun disappeared over the Lake Erie horizon.
This one had a little of everything: strong pitching, bad pitching, blown chances, emptied benches and bullpens, a soon-to-be 45-year-old infielder playing the outfield and, of course, a spot in baseball annals.
”I guess we got in the record books,” said Masterson. ”That’s something. Who started it? That’s a trivia question.”
Masterson allowed just two hits and struck out 10 in eight dominant innings. But the Blue Jays, who believe they can hang with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in the brutal AL East, rallied in the ninth off Perez and gave manager John Farrell reason to think this season could be wild.
”If tonight is any kind of insight into this season, strap in,” Farrell said. ”We’re in for a long ride.”
In the 16th, moments after the team’s had rewritten the history books, Asencio walked Brett Lawrie and Omar Vizquel reached on a fielder’s choice before Arencibia, who hit 23 homers as a rookie last season, drove a pitch onto the pedestrian plaza in left.
He was lucky it ever got there.
After taking a ball, Arencibia thought third-base coach Brian Butterfield had given him the bunt sign and he popped his attempt foul.
”For some reason, I thought I got the bunt sign,” Arencibia said. ”That got me in two strikes. Then I was just trying to hit the ball. I happened to hit it hard and got it out of the park.”
Arencibia was unaware of his gaffe until he got back into the dugout, where Farrell told him what he had done.
”He high-fived me and said, `Great job, you missed a sign,”’ Arencibia said, laughing.
The Indians squandered a potential game-winning situation in the 12th.
They loaded the bases on two walks and a single before Farrell brought 44-year-old shortstop Vizquel off the bench as a fifth infielder. The strategy worked when Asdrubal Cabrera swung at Perez’s first pitch and bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Toronto trailed 4-1 going into the ninth after being stopped by Masterson.
But the Blue Jays rallied for three runs off Perez, who missed most of spring training with a strained side muscle and looked awful.
He gave up two singles to start the inning before Bautista’s sacrifice fly made it 4-2. Kelly Johnson took second on the play, and after Adam Lind walked, Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run double to tie it at 4.
Perez got an out, but walked Eric Thames and was pulled by manager Manny Acta before hanging his head as he walked dejectedly to the dugout amid loud boos.
”I don’t think I was too pumped up,” Perez said. ”I was rushing, definitely, especially when stuff started getting sticky.”
Perez’s meltdown cost Masterson a win he deserved.
The right-hander won 12 games last season, but pitched better than his record. Acta chose him to open the season, picking him in spring training over Ubaldo Jimenez, who may be the staff’s ace but hasn’t lived up to expectations since he was acquired in a July trade form Colorado.
Masterson set an early tone, striking out the side in the first. He retired the side in order four times, and except for giving up Bautista’s homer, was never in serious trouble.
Hannahan’s third career opening-day homer gave the Indians a 4-0 lead.
Hours later, Hannahan didn’t know the game had reached historic proportions.
”It felt really long,” he said, ”and a little chilly, too.”
NOTES: Arencibia has a thing for debuts. He hit two homers on opening-day last season and connected for two in his first major league game in 2010. … The Indians have had six home openers go to into extras since Progressive Field opened in 1994. … Cleveland has lost four straight openers and eight of 10. … Cleveland pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts. … Toronto’s Colby Rasmus made a diving catch to rob Hannahan of extra bases in the fifth. … Farrell began his playing career with Cleveland and pitched five seasons for the Indians, often taking the mound in less-than-ideal-conditions in old Cleveland Stadium. ”I pitched in the snow before,” he said. ”Opening day on the Great Lakes is a risky proposition.”