Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 4/6/12
Perspective is supposed to set in the day after a tough loss. But perspective is elusive after the Cleveland Indians opener, a downer of a day and night that provided another of those moments for Cleveland fans. The Indians played the longest season opener ever, and lost. After leading 4-1 heading into the ninth. After not bringing a runner home from third with one out in the bottom of the ninth. After not scoring one stinking run in the bottom of the 12th with the bases loaded and a guy at bat who had just signed a two-year contract extension. Its really mind boggling until you recall the 3-1 ALCS lead over Boston in 2007, and that time in the World Series when Cleveland became the only team to start the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 with a lead and lose. A season opener does not approach those catastrophic levels, but this loss sure felt worse than losing one game in May. The bright side: Justin Masterson pitched so well and handled the loss so well. This is a guy to admire, a true team player who didnt whine for one second that his 4-1 lead went bye bye because Chris Perez did not have it. Perez was every bit as stand-up as Masterson. Character matters, and both players showed plenty. Problem is character does not overcome not succeeding, and if the Indians are what they showed on Opening Day this team has some concerns. Left field seems to be the Indians quagmire. They put guys into it, then watch them wallow around. Shelley Duncan gets the chance this year, and hes 32. This hardly seems like a bright spot for the future. Yes, Duncan is playing because Grady Sizemore got hurt, but not even the Indians can say they were surprised Sizemore was injured. Again. Duncan has two seasons in Cleveland with 506 appearances. Hes hit .246 with a .771 OPS (Bill James calls that OPS just above average). It seems illogical that a team trying to develop young players would use a 32-year-old left fielder who never had more than 74 at-bats before joining the Indians. Then again, past few years, the Indians have used Dave Dellucci, Austin Kearns, Jason Michaels, Ben Francisco and Duncan in left. Its a quagmire. The overall hitting was a major concern coming out of spring training, and it might be a more major concern coming out of the opener. The Indians scored in one of 16 innings, had seven hits, went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and had three extra-base hits, one a double by Brantley that was a misplayed fly ball that Eric Thames turned into a double. The Blue Jays seem to have what the Indians lack: A few guys who can change the game with one swing. Guys with power. Some really bad at-bats compound the situation. In extra innings, Cleveland had a runner on third with one out in the bottom of the ninth and got ground balls to first by Casey Kotchman (0-for-7) and second by Jason Kipnis. All Kotchman had to do was hit a weak fly ball. He topped a ball to first. The 12th was the worst. Thats when Luis Perez was throwing the ball to Cedar Point as he walked Brantley on four pitches to load the bases. With one out, it seemed like all Asdrubal Cabrera had to do was wait for the walk or the wild pitch, and the game is over. What did he do? Swing at the first pitch, and ground into a double-play. Holy Casey Blake, Batman, what happened to working the count? All this could have been moot had Perez finished the job in the ninth. Manny Acta made that point, said he wasnt going to start criticizing his hitters because if Perez does his job its a tidy 4-1 win. Which is true. To that point, things were working as designed. Jack Hannahan had homered, kind of justifying the decision to play him over Lonnie Chisenhall (a decision that seems odd in a Duncanian kind of way). Kotchman was outstanding defensively, saving at least two hits with good plays. Masterson was masterful. Things were going according to plan, with sunshine and pageantry and overflowing optimism. Until Perez came in. He had a bad day, offered no excuses, and acted the way youd like every athlete to act. But there have to be mild concerns about the guy who saved 36 games a year ago. In 2008, Perez struck out 42 in 41 23 innings. In 2009, it was 68 in 57. In 2010, it was 61 in 63. Last season, though, he struck out 39 in 59 23 innings. He lost seven games and blew four saves though he did have those saves. His ERA almost doubled, from 1.71 in 10 to 3.32 in 11. He started spring training by pulling an oblique the first time he threw, then had a truncated spring. Its easy to say the injury caused the loss, but if a guy is ready hes ready. Players have come back with fewer spring training appearances and done fine. Perez could come back and save another 35 and go to the All-Star Game. But relief pitchers are quirky, and he was throwing 90 and 91 miles per hour as opposed to 93 or 94 when hes at his best. Tough years sometimes come from nowhere, and the opening game sure doesnt help. Yes, that season opener was one loss. It just felt like 10. Saturday the Indians turn to the other guy they desperately need to come through: Ubaldo Jimenez. Hes the guy who determined it was more important his last spring training appearance to hit someone on his former team than it was to get ready for this season with his new team. Rarely after one game has a team needed a good game from such a mercurial personality than the Indians do on Saturday.
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