Starting Pitching and Birthday Bashes Give Tribe First Win; Indians 4, Blue Jays 3
By Mike Brandyberry
Starting pitching and birthdays have been the friends of the Cleveland Indians in this young season. Derek Lowe became the third Indians’ starter in as many days to give a quality effort, and birthday boy, Carlos Santana hit two home runs to provide the necessary offense to give the Tribe their first victory of the season, 4-3 over the Toronto Blue Jays.
While the team benefitted from Santana’s long ball and Lowe’s performance, the team struggled defensively and the bullpen remained shaky, making the game full of drama until the last pitch.
Santana started the struggling Indian offense with a home run to deep centerfield to lead off the second inning. It was Santana’s first home run of the season. With two outs in the inning Casey Kotchman reached via fielder’s choice, then Jason Kipnis followed with a base hit and Jack Hannahan singled home Kotchman. The two, two-out base hits, were only the second run the Tribe had scored this season without the help of the home run.
Meanwhile Lowe was everything the Indians hoped the veteran, right-handed pitcher would be when they acquired him last Halloween. Lowe worked quickly, throwing strikes and inducing ground balls. His only rocky inning was the fifth when Kipnis misplayed a ground ball from Kelly Johnson that was ruled a hit and Hannahan made an uncharacteristic error on Adam Lind’s ground ball. That set the table for Edwin Encarnacion to double home Johnson and Brett Lawrie to score Lind on a sacrifice fly.
“Today Derek Lowe was fantastic. He gave us seven solid innings,” Acta said. “He did a fantastic job of throwing strikes and mixing in his slider.”
Both runs were ruled unearned because of the Hannahan error. Lowe worked seven innings, allowing five runs, two runs, neither earned, and striking out one. He threw 95 pitches, 61 for strikes. Lowe rebounded for a quality first start after a disasterous 2011 with the Atlanta Braves.
Santana’s birthday wishes came true again in the bottom of the fifth inning. With two out, Shin-Soo Choo singled before Santana homered to right field. Santana has hit five home runs and driven in 17 on his last four birthdays. The two run blast gave the Tribe a 4-2 lead.
“I wish it was that easy for everybody,” manager Manny Acta said. “I gotta give it to him, he caught every inning this weekend. He did a fantastic job defensively this entire series.” The Indians have really stressed defensive improvement with Santana this spring.
Once Lowe left after seven, Joe Smith relieved and became the latest Bullpen Mafia member to struggle in a tight contest. Smith allowed three hits, one run and a strikeout in only one-third of an inning before giving way to Vinnie Pestano who worked out of the jam, striking out Encarnacion and Lawrie to end the inning.
Pestano rebounded nicely after giving up a go ahead home run to Johnson yesterday. “Vinnie was very anxious to get back on the mound,” Acta said. “He came to me today and said he was good to go.”
Chris Perez entered in the ninth and promptly gave up a leadoff base hit to Eric Thames. Colby Rasmus flied out to centerfield before Ben Francisco pinch hit for Jeff Mathis. Francisco grounded up the middle for what could have been a game-ending double play, but Asdrubal Cabrera kicked the ball and everyone was safe on the error.
“You gotta block that out,” Perez said. “You just gotta buckle in and go get another one.”
Despite a rocky start for the team and the closer, the team is optimistic. “A year ago we started 0-2,” Perez said. “Then we went out and rattled off eight in a row.”
The Tribe will look to start that streak with some more solid starting pitching tomorrow evening with Josh Tomlin on the mound against the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale at Progressive Field at 7:05 pm.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images