Indians win first game of Terry Francona era

TORONTO — Nick Swisher bobbed through the Cleveland Indians clubhouse after Tuesday night’s season opener.

“Where’s that lineup card?” Swisher said. “Gotta get that one for No. 17.”

No. 17, of course, is new manager Terry Francona, who no doubt will appreciate the gesture after his tenure got off to a grand opening with a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

To Francona this was a little more than just your average exciting opening game.

“Obviously I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I was so nervous the whole game that it surprised me. I think I realized early in the game how much I care about these guys already, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“I was a nervous wreck.

“Which hopefully will go away.

“Not the caring part, the nervous part.”

Francona’s nerves followed the message he gave the team a day earlier, when he stressed that if the Indians of 2013 are to accomplish anything they have to do it together. It’s a message many say, but not all can convey.

“I think that’s the best way for us to be good,” Francona said.

“That” means play the game right, look out for each other and care about each other, which is illustrated in postgame things like a veteran grabbing the lineup card for the veteran manager. It was also illustrated during the game as the Indians used the contributions of many to form a pretty impressive opening-game whole.

Starting pitcher Justin Masterson fought through a tough start to finish strong, the bullpen shut the door in the seventh, eighth and ninth and the defense was outstanding.

And Asdrubal Cabrera, who made such an effort in the offseason to report in better shape, came through with two winning plays.

The first came in the bottom of the third when a hit and two walks loaded the bases for Toronto with nobody out. Masterson was clearly struggling, and though the inning was early it had the potential to change the game. Especially when designated hitter Adam Lind hit a rocket up the middle.

Cabrera somehow snagged the ball — it almost looked like one of those close-your-eyes-and-hope plays though it clearly wasn’t — and was able to start a double-play. Toronto’s only run came that inning, and the Indians still led 2-1.

“Obviously a huge play,” Francona said.

“That was really (hit) hard,” Cabrera said. “I was in the right position. … The ball went straight into my glove.”

Cabrera admitted that inning “saved the game,” a thought Francona echoed.

“That ball (gets through), that’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.

He followed in the top of fifth by hitting a fly ball to right off knuckle-baller and National League Cy Young Winner R.A. Dickey. The ball looked like a lazy fly to semi-deep right, but it kept carrying for a two-run home run that shocked Dickey and provided the Indians their final margin.

“No,” Cabrera said when asked if he thought the ball was a home run. “I hit it good, but I thought it was too high.”

Indians pitchers gave up one hit in the final seven innings. After allowing seven baserunners the first three innings, Masterson turned it around to retire the final 11 hitters he faced. He did not give up a hit after the third. 

“I don’t know if he would have done that last year,” Chris Perez said, “so that’s a good sign.”

Indians pitchers retired 19 in a row before Perez gave up a double with two outs in the ninth. He closed the game with a swinging strikeout.

Along the way, the defense contributed time and again.

Jason Kipnis made a sliding stop at second in the sixth, and Nick Swisher made a nice play down the line at first. Later, Drew Stubbs made a long run and sliding catch on a well hit ball to right.

“We played a very sound defensive game,” Francona said. “And on top of that we made some spectacular plays.”

Rarely do things go according to script. But this opener followed the ideal script. Masterson found himself. The bullpen of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Perez did its job. The defense was excellent. And the hitting against a Cy Young winner was timely.

“The Canadians put on a nice little show,” Masterson said. “Forty-eight, forty-nine thousand people here today, loud and yelling. Just a great atmosphere. Just to be able to win a ballgame in that atmosphere was pretty good.”

A long season remains.

But on opening day the Indians not only displayed their blueprint to win, they followed it.