Masterson dazzles, Indians fizzle to Blue Jays

BY foxsports • April 5, 2012

CLEVELAND -- Some Opening Days produce memories.

Thursday's season opener between Cleveland and Toronto produced history -- and a lot of nonsense.

The Indians wasted a glittering performance by starting pitcher Justin Masterson, blew a three-run lead in the ninth and lost seven innings later on a three-run home run.

The 16-inning game was the longest season opener in baseball history, one inning more than Philadelphia-Washington in 1926 and Detroit in Cleveland in 1960. But though it made history, it certainly wasn't memorable.

"We got in the record books," Masterson said. "At least that's something."

Yes, he was joking.

Masterson was masterful, giving up just one run and striking out 10 in eight innings. But closer Chris Perez gave up those three runs in the ninth, disappointing a Progressive Field Opening Day record crowd of 43,190.

"Everybody did their job today but me," Perez said. But even after his inning, the longest opener ever droned on for seven more pitchers and seven more innings.

The going line for the Indians is that there are 161 more games -- and there are. But this was a depressing and disappointing way to lose, especially given the ridiculous way the Indians played in the bottom of the ninth and 12th innings.

That doesn't even mention the top of the ninth, when Perez faced seven hitters, threw two first-pitch strikes and gave up three runs on three hits while walking two.

"I take the blame for this loss," Perez said.

Perez made only two spring training appearances after straining an oblique muscle while throwing for the first time, but he said the injury and short spring had nothing to do with the fact he threw bad pitches.

"I'm healthy," he said. "I wouldn't be out there if I wasn't. There's too much at stake."

"No excuses," said manager Manny Acta. "We said he was healthy."

Acta found himself in the crosshairs of his job, which leads to second-guessing when things don't go right.

As in, why did he take Masterson out after eight innings and 99 pitches when even Acta admitted he was "terrific?"

"He hadn't gone past seven innings in spring training," Acta said. "Up three in the ninth, that's the perfect situation for the closer to come in and close the game."

Did he consider taking Perez out sooner than he did in the ninth (Vinnie Pestano got the last out after Perez faced seven hitters)?

No, Acta said, because he didn't want Perez to come out until he had blown the save. Removing the closer before the save chance was gone would have sent Perez the wrong message, especially on Opening Day, Acta said.

Even after blowing the lead, the Indians had chances to win. In the bottom of the ninth, they had a runner on third with one out, but Casey Kotchman and Jason Kipnis hit weak ground balls to first and second to send the game to extra innings.

In the 12th, a walk, single and walk brought Asdrubal Cabrera to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He swung at the first pitch and hit into a double-play, sending many of the chilled fans to the exits.

"He's a guy I want up there in that situation," Acta said. "Give it to me 100 more times with him up there. He tried to do too much with the pitch."

Cabrera followed Michael Brantley to the plate after Brantley had walked on four pitches from Luis Perez. Perez wasn't close on those four pitches; two would have ended the game if not for the defensive work of J.P. Arencibia. One day after addressing the fact he had signed a two-year contract extension, Cabrera swung at the first pitch and produced two outs. Acta was asked if he would have liked Cabrera to take a pitch or two given how wild Perez was to Brantley.

"No, I would like him to get a pitch and whack it and win the game," Acta said.

Following that at-bat, the Indians deflated like one of those Macy's balloons on Thanksgiving. The final four innings, they had no hits and three baserunners, all on walks. They got just three balls out of the infield, two of them on weak fly balls.

Toronto provided its own nonsense. The Blue Jays left the bases loaded in the 12th. In the 15th, Rajai Davis tried to bunt with runners on first and second. He bunted it in the air, then stood and watched as the Indians let the ball drop and turned the bunt into a double play. The Jays then ended things emphatically with Arencibia's three-run homer in the 16th.

Toronto was happy to get away with a win after a game that lasted five hours and 14 minutes and had 14 pitchers throw 540 pitches.

Acta said the Indians season is "a long journey," and he's right. But some losses burn, and sometimes they can highlight deficiencies. The Indians scored four runs in the second, but none in the other 15 innings, including 14 straight. There was excellent starting pitching, a brutal inning by the closer and some very poor at-bats when guys had chances to win the game. The Indians need excellent starting pitching to stay in contention; against Toronto they got near-perfect starting pitching, yet still lost.

As far as beginnings go, the Indians started in an opening daze.


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