It took three games, 37 innings, and a whole lot of nerve-wracking, but we finally got one in the win column. The Cleveland Indians (1-2) earned their first victory of the season Sunday afternoon, besting the Toronto Blue Jays (2-1), 4-3.
The Indians’ lineup got off to a quick start as Carlos Santana celebrated his 26th birthday by driving Joel Carreno‘s 3-1 fastball over the wall in center to lead off the second inning, and the Tribe added another run a few batters later when Jack Hannahan‘s RBI single drove in Casey Kotchman. Combined with Derek Lowe‘s strong Cleveland debut, the small rally made for a 2-0 lead.
The Blue Jays finally got to Lowe in the top of the fourth as Edwin Encarnacion doubled in Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie‘s sacrifice fly scored Adam Lind to tie the game at 2-2. But Santana struck back all by himself by taking Carreno deep yet again for a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth to make it 4-2 Tribe.
The Indians threatened in the seventh but neither team struck again until the eighth, when Joe Smith got into trouble against the top of Toronto’s order. Lind’s RBI single put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base with one out, but Vinnie Pestano got both Encarnacion and Lawrie to chase strike three to get out of the jam.
Chris Perez got into trouble in the ninth as Eric Thames‘ single, Asdrubal Cabrera‘s error, and Kelly Johnson’s walk conspired to load the bases, but in the highest-leverage at-bat of the game he got Jose Bautista to pop out to end the game and give Cleveland a 4-3 victory.
The Good: Derek Lowe. He didn’t fool anyone Sunday—he got only one strikeout and of his 95 pitches just five were swinging strikes—but boy did he have a great outing. He held Toronto to just one run on five hits while allowing only one walk through seven strong innings. That he induced 15 groundouts should be evidence enough that his trademark sinker is in good shape, and while we shouldn’t read too much into a single outing Lowe definitely didn’t look like the washed-up veteran many thought the Indians were getting when they acquired him.
Carlos Santana also had a fantastic game, matching the Blue Jays’ entire offensive production with just two swings of his bat. Props are also due to Vinnie Pestano for delivering two extremely clutch strikeouts in the eighth. According to FanGraphs, the Indians had less than a 66 percent chance of winning when Pestano entered the game but had 87 percent odds after Lawrie chased strike three.
The Bad: Chris Perez got the job done, but not before he drove every Indians fan’s blood pressure through the roof. It wasn’t his fault that Asdrubal Cabrera flubbed the ball, but that he walked Kelly Johnson after getting ahead 1-2 doesn’t speak well for his attempt to reverse the negative trend of his strikeout rate.
Cabrera didn’t have a great game either, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout and grounding out with the bases loaded to end the Tribe’s second inning rally. And while he’s only human, his error in the ninth was concerning—a shortstop who lacks great range needs to make all the routine plays in order to be an effective fielder.
The “Huh?”: With a 4-2 lead in the top of the eighth, manager Manny Acta went with Joe Smith instead of his usual eighth-inning man, Vinnie Pestano. It wasn’t a question of overuse (both had pitched Saturday), leaving us to infer that the switch was the result of Pestano’s poor outing Saturday (he gave up a home run to Kelly Johnson and left the mound with runners still at the corners).
Such a decision might be understandable…except Acta voiced his unconditional support for Chris Perez after his much worse outing Thursday. If we’re chalking Perez’ blown save up to his just having a bad day, why the startling lack of confidence in Pestano, who is a better pitcher and didn’t look as bad as Perez did?
Interesting Tidbit: The Indians used the same starting lineup all through this series, marking the first time Cleveland’s batting order has stayed consistent for the first three games of the season since 2000. That lineup: Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Richie Sexson, David Justice, Travis Fryman, Sandy Alomar.