Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Tribe so close to a perfect day

It was so close to being the perfect game for the Cleveland Indians in Thursday’s home opener against Toronto.

But in the end it all fell apart.

For eight innings the game played out exactly the way the Indians wanted it, showcasing the blueprint for how the Tribe will have to play to win this year.

Justin Masterson was sublime while working eight innings of two-hit, 10-strikeout baseball; his only mistake a solo homerun ball given up to Jose Bautista. Hey, no shame in that.

A three-run homer by Opening Day superstar Jack Hannahan (the third in his career) in the second inning was the key hit the Indians were looking for in building a four-run lead after two innings.

Casey Kotchman reminded everyone that he is not Matt LaPorta, making two superb defensive plays at first base and driving in a run in the Indians’ four-run second inning with a ground out to first to score Carlos Santana from third base. Kotchman’s defense and the professional, situational hitting were both plays that LaPorta would never have made in the same situation.

It was all playing out just the way manager Manny Acta planned it.

Then came the ninth inning.

Closer Chris Perez came in to shut the door on a 4-1 Indians’ victory. Thirty-one pitches, three hits, two walks and three runs later Perez was headed to the showers and the game was headed to extra innings tied at 4.

“I feel terrible,” Perez said in published reports. “Everyone did their job but me. I wasn’t pumped up out there, but I was rushing. Especially when things got sticky. Usually I’m pretty good at slowing stuff down and working through hitters. I don’t know if it was Opening Day or the hometown crowd, but I was definitely rushing.”

The Tribe had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 12th inning. Michael Brantley walked on four pitches to load the bases with just one out. Inexplicably the next batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, swung at the first pitch, grounding into a double play to end the threat.

Oh boy.

The Indians would never get a better chance the rest of the way.

Reliever Jairo Asencio did his best to keep the Indians in the game, but finally ran out of gas in his third inning of work and gave up a three-run homer to J.P. Arencibia in the top of the 16th inning.

The good part is Masterson and relievers Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp combined to give up just one run in 12.1 innings of work. That’s a recipe for success that Acta and the Tribe will take every day of the week.

The negative from the day, other than Perez of course, is the Tribe offense closed up shop after putting up four runs in the second inning. The Indians had three hits in the second, and only had four more over the final 15 innings of the game. The Tribe was also shutout in 15 of the 16 innings played.

“That’s irrelevant,” Acta said in published reports. “We should have won it in nine. We also had two opportunities (in extra innings) and didn’t do it. I’m not going to single out my offense after one game.”

More often than not, that’s not going to cut it. The Indians are not a team that’s going to be putting up four-run innings very often this year, so they need to be able to scratch out a run or two every couple of innings to have a chance to win.

But we have all season to worry about that. For one day at least, the good is at least equal to the bad in Tribe town.

One game down; 161 to go.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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