There were a lot of similarities between the first two games of the Cleveland Indians’ 2012 season against the Toronto Blue Jays: the score, the extra innings, the great pitching, the missing offense, and the frustration of losing a game that seemed to be going the Tribe’s way.
There wasn’t much action for the first few innings, as both Ubaldo Jimenez and Brandon Morrow were at the tops of their games. The two pitchers combined to take a no-hitter through a complete game’s worth of innings until Jason Kipnis‘ two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth—the first hit of the game—put the Tribe on top, 2-0.
Jimenez’ perfect game was foiled in the top of the sixth when he issued a two-out walk to Colby Rasmus, and he lost his no-hitter in the seventh when Brett Lawrie‘s two-run single tied the game at 2-2. The Indians were robbed of a big opportunity to respond when third base umpire Tim Welke incorrectly called Travis Hafner‘s liner the right field line foul; instead getting of a double that might have scored Carlos Santana from first, he struck out before Shelley Duncan ended the inning with a double play. The missed call probably cost the Indians the game.
Neither team got on the board again until Kelly Johnson took Vinnie Pestano deep on a 3-2 slider to start the top of the ninth and give the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead. Things looked bleak for the Indians in the bottom of the ninth until Asdrubal Cabrera interrupted Tom Hamilton’s praising Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos for acquiring closer Sergio Santos by launching Santos’ 1-1 fastball into the right-field bleachers to tie the game, 3-3. But that was all the Tribe could muster and it went to extra innings at Progressive Field yet again.
Both teams went 1-2-3 in the 10th and 11th innings, but the Blue Jays struck quickly in the 12th. Edwin Encarnacion ripped Tony Sipp‘s fourth pitch for a double. He advanced to third on Lawrie’s single, and they both scored on Rajai Davis‘ two-run double. Rasmus and Johnson both added their own RBI singles, and by the time Dan Wheeler recorded the final out every Blue Jay had batted and Toronto was ahead, 7-3.
The Indians didn’t go quietly in the ninth. Asdrubal Cabrera battled Francisco Cordero to a full count before reaching base on a leadoff single, and he reached third on Carlos Santana’s base hit two batters later. With one out and runners at the corners, Hafner delivered with an RBI single to make it 7-4. Shelley Duncan followed with a fielder’s choice to make it runners at the corners and two outs for the tying run at the plate: Casey Kotchman. Cordero got ahead 1-2 and Kotchman grounded out to end the game.
The Good: Ubaldo Jimenez. After a rough end to last year and an even rougher spring training, Jimenez put the Indians’ concerns to rest Saturday. He threw seven innings of one-hit ball, holding Toronto to just two runs. It’s just one game and neither his three walks nor his three strikeouts were particularly encouraging signs, but his stuff looked about as good as we’ve seen since he came to Cleveland.
Another big positive was Chris Perez‘ shutdown 11th inning, in which he retired Kelly Johnson, Jose Bautista, and Adam Lind on just 10 pitches. It was just one inning and it didn’t undo the damage he did Thursday, but it was a strong comeback performance nonetheless.
The Bad: The offense in general. The focus was on Ubaldo’s strong outing, but Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow’s statline for Saturday was almost the same as Jimenez’—the Indians didn’t manage a hit until the fifth inning and Morrow, Darren Oliver, and Sergio Santos combined to take a one-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. We’re only two games into the season, but after 28 innings this team is averaging just 2.6 runs per nine frames.
The honorable mention here goes to Tony Sipp—someone was bound to crack eventually, but recording only one out in 24 pitches and five batters is generally a pretty poor sign.
The “Huh?”: There wasn’t much Tim Welke could have done about blowing the call on Hafner’s allegedly foul ball in the seventh. If he didn’t see it he didn’t see it, and simply rewarding Pronk for his hypothetical double wasn’t really a realistic expectation. But Carlos Santana scoring on the play would have been a real possibility, and even if he hadn’t the Indians would have had runners at second and third with no outs instead of a runner at first with one.
Even in the most conservative hypothetical scenario, the Indians still have two men in scoring position with one out after what ended up to be Shelley Duncan’s inning-ending grounder to Brett Lawrie. Nothing’s for certain, but Cleveland probably would have scored that inning, meaning the game would have ended with a Tribe victory in the ninth instead of a defeat in the 12th.
Interesting Tidbit: The Indians used the same starting lineup Saturday that they did Thursday—a rarity in recent Tribe history. Cleveland’s batting order has looked the same in both Games 1 and 2 only twice this millennium (the other year was 2007).