April 8, 2013
Chapter 7: The big buzzkill
Opening Day* is usually a celebration in Cleveland no matter how good or bad the team is perceived to be. The game is always a sellout, with fans who normally wouldn't go to a ballgame packing Progressive Field, even sitting in those horrible seats in the upper right corner of the stadium. For Opening Day in the Northern cities is the de facto celebration of spring, with Opening Day representing the first outdoor event of the season. The cherished magnet schedule is given away, there's festive bunting, many balloons, a giant American flag, introductions, and all the other festivities that make Opening Day the most unique game of the season.
This being Cleveland, the weather on Opening Day can range from brutal cold, lake effect snow (which famously ended 2007's opener), chilly rain, and occasionally a gorgeous spring day. Had Opening Day been a week earlier, the fans would have been bundled up like Browns fans attending a November game. But yesterday fans went to the park with only a light jacket in case it would rain. And although it did rain during the early innings, it was only a brief shower, and the weather improved as the game went on.
This Opening Day had a special excitement, because for the first time Cleveland fans could see in person the team built over the most exciting off season in over a decade. There was Michael Bourn, the unexpected acquisition at the end of the winter, Mark Reynolds, the slugger who had already started to pay dividends, Nick Swisher, a walking good mood, and Terry Francona, the lynchpin to the whole transformation. Optimism always attends Opening Day, but this Opening Day the optimism was much deeper and real than usual.
The Indians as an organization had undergone a facelift not only with the players on the field, but with the perception of the club in the community. Unprecedented spending and several shrewd public relations moves, including cutting concessions pricing, has made the usual grumbling about ownership much less audible than usual.
For the first pitch, the Indians had something unique; a father-son first pitch. Tito Francona, who played for the Indians in the late 50s/early 60s threw to his son Terry; Steve Swisher, Sandy Alomar Sr, and Mickey Brantley, all of whom played major league baseball, threw to their sons; and Steve McAllister, a long-time scout, threw to his son. It was a neat and touching part of Opening Day.
So everything was just about perfect until the game began. A winter's worth of buildup and anticipation manifested itself in the tremendous atmosphere as the game got underway, only to be undercut by the events soon to come. Four batters into the game, the Yankees had two men on, and LGFT Travis Hafner came to the plate, When Hafner was introduced before the game, he received a well-deserved cheer for his ten seasons in an Indians uniform. But once the game began, he was deservedly booed because of the uniform he now wore. And it didn't take long for Hafner to become a True Yankee, for he hit a three-run homer in that first inning to give the Indians the lead. Ubaldo Jimenez, who had pitched well in his first start, would pitch like last year in this game, with Hafner's home run only the first of many mistakes made on the day.
The Indians to their credit came back to tie the game in the bottom of the inning, with help from a couple lucky bounces. Asdrubal Cabrera hit would should have been a double play ball up the middle, but the ball bounced off of second base, setting up the inning. jason Kipnis drove home Michael Bourn on a sacrifice fly, and after a Nick Swisher single, Michael Brantley drove a seeing-eye single through the right side of the infield to plate a second run. Later, with the bases loaded, Mark Reynolds hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
But in the third, Travis Hafner drove home his fourth run of the game with a single to give the lead back to the Yankees, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. New York starter Hiedki Kuroda would recover from his bad first inning to pitch into the sixth, but Jimenez would give up runs in the third, fourth, and fifth, and when he left, the Indians trailed 7-3. The Yankees would soon break the game open, leading 11-3 after scoring three runs in the seventh off Rich Hill.
The game might have been even more costly. In the ninth inning, Carlos Santana, expecting an offspeed pitch, got nailed on base of his thumb when Perez threw a fastball instead. Thankfully the X-rays on Santana's thumb came back negative, with the star catcher day-to-day. Lou Marson, who had been on the shelf briefly after a home plate collision on Friday, will likely catch tomorrow and perhaps a couple more games after that.
For all the disappointment stemming from this game, it is still just one loss, just as the Indians' 13-0 shellacking of David Price and the Rays was just one win. We're still excited about this season and the possibilities that still exist for this season. But what could have been a memorable Opening Day in Cleveland turned into a game that we'd like to forget.
*Yes, I know technically Opening Day is the first game of the baseball season, but in this instance I'm applying it to the home opener.