The game started with 4 consecutive Strikeouts, no one seemed able to make contact and if they did, it was weak. Not one person in attendance truly knew what they were getting themselves into after such a fast start to the game.
In the Cleveland 2nd, the cold set in and began to cause havoc for Ricky Romero and his command. Santana walked to lead off the frame followed by a strike out of Blue Jay killer Travis Haffner. Shelly Duncan hit a tough pitch (Changeup) down the line for a Double advancing Santana to 3rd with only 1 out. Kotchman followed up with a RBI Fielders Choice scoring Santana and the Indians were in business.
At this point it seemed as if Romero was having a hard time with his control most likely due to the temperature at the Jake. Struggling to find the zone, Romero walked the 8 hitter Kipnis and took 2-2 stand vs Hannahan before giving up a 3 run shot to Right Field scoring Cleveland’s final 3 runs of the game. The pitch was a Curveball left up in the zone that Hannahan simply did not miss. 1 Bad pitch made the difference for Romero as although he still had trouble locating, he pitched effectively enough to last another 3 innings of scoreless Baseball.
Masterson was razor sharp allowing a mere 2 hit’s in his 8 innings of work for the Tribe. Both hits were for extra bases as Lind smacked a Double in the 2nd and Bautista hit his first HR of the 2012 season, cutting the Indian lead to 3. Up until the 8th,Toronto had but 2 base runners the entire game excluding Bautista’s HR.
With the Indians leading by 3, a Save was available for Cleveland closer Chis Perez. Perez saved a total of 36 games for the Tribe in 2011 posting an ERA of 3.32 in the process and representing the Indians in the Mid Summer Classic however his first appearance in 2012 would be less than memorable for the 26 year old RHP.
Both Escobar and Johnson laced Singles to Center Fielder Michael Brantley (son of former Blue Jays Hitting Coach Mickey Brantley). With runners on the corners, Bautista sent a 1-1 Fastball deep in to CF that in a windless ball park, had a chance to be more than the Sac Fly he ended up with. Kelly Johnson Tagged on the play moving from 1st to second as the Blue Jays crept within 2 of the Indians with 1 out. Lind followed up by drawing a Walk and was quickly replaced by pinch runner Rajai Davis, this move would pay off for the Blue Jays as the next hitter (Encarnacion) Doubled of the wall scoring both Johnson and Davis to tie the game. With out Davis on first odds are the run would not have scored as his speed paid dividends proving how much of an offensive threat the 31 year old Outfielder can be on the base path’s. Lawrie hit into a fielders choice and Thames walked before Manny Acta had seen enough and came out to replace his closer.
Vinnie Pestano was able to escape the inning by inducing a ground ball off the bat of JP Arencibia but the damage was done. The next 7 innings would prove to be some of the most exciting action the Blue Jays have seen on opening day since 1977.
With Lind out of the game Farrell decided to bring Bautista in to play 1st and place Davis in Right Field. Cordero was in to attempt to hold the Indians at 4. A Fly Ball to LCF handcuffed the normally sure handed Rasmus as he was unable to come up with the ball and watched as it rolled past him allowing the winning run to move up to 2nd with no outs. Baseball 101 would indicate that a Bunt was in order to move the runner to 3rd and this is exactly what Cunningham did as he dropped a perfect Sacrifice down the line. With 1 out Cordero was able to get Kotchman to bounce to First where Bautista fielded the ball (effortlessly) and was able to hold the runner at 3rd while recording the 2nd out of the inning. Cordero was able to get out of the inning without allowing a run and the game headed into extra’s.
In the 12th,Cleveland rallied and filled the bases with 1 out. Farrell chose to replace Thames in Left field with Omar Vizquel however Vizquel would be placed in the infield allowing an extra defender on to guard against a groundball. Sure enough, with the infield in, Villa got Cabrera to bounce to Short starting the inning ending Double Play and getting the Blue Jays out of another jam.
Now with Left field vacant, Farrell opted to move Vizquel to 1st, Bautista back into Right Field and place Davis in Left. All the position switches seemed to daze Cleveland’s Public Address Announcer as he struggled to keep up with the series of chess moves the Blue Jays were making throughout the later stages of the ball game.
Fans began to slowly trickle out of the park as the game continued leaving an increasing visible sea of blue jerseys left to fill the gaps of sunlight that remained in certain sections of Progressive Field. Chants of USA USA began as Perez (Luis) came close to hitting Choo causing a benches clearing incident in the 15th. The Natives were getting restless.
In the top of the 16th, Lawrie lead off with a walk followed by a hit and run attempt by Omar Vizquel drawing a ground ball to Cleveland pitcher Jiaro Asencio. Asencio made the decision to try and get Lawrie at 2nd however he came up short and both runners were safe on the play. In steps Arencibia who promptly turned on a 79 MPH Slider, sending it over the wall for a 3 run HR. Arencibia’s shot was his 3rd opening day HR in 2 years, guess the kid like hitting with goose eggs beside his name.
Perez remained in the game to get Jason Donald before Toronto turned to it’s pen once again, calling in Sergio Santos. Santos, the Blue Jays 8th pitcher of the game, recorded the final 2 outs as the Blue Jays went on to win the game. The rest is history.
Speaking of history, this was the largest Opening Day crowd ever recorded at Progressive Field. The 43,190 in attendance were treated to another historic aspect as the 16 innings played would become the longest Opening Day game ever recorded in the history of Major League Baseball.
Needless to say, both teams are thankful for Fridays off day as it will give their Bullpens time to rest following the marathon game that saw both teams burn their entire relief corps in the opener.
One for the books.