LIVINGSTONE: If the first of 162 games in the Blue Jays schedule is any indication of what this season holds, I’m going to have a heart attack before September.
For five hours and 17 minutes, from the first pitch just after 3 p.m.to final pitch from Sergio Santos just after 8 p.m. EST, my column on the first game of the season morphed and mutated, was sharp with criticism, considerate of the Opening Day jitters and anxiety, ripe with analysis of who did what wrong and where the Jays looked good – that last part didn’t come until the top of the ninth. Mind you, I had obligations at 7 p.m., forcing me to miss the 11th through the 14th innings (note: never did I expect the game to go as long as it did), and to my surprise, I came home to Luis Perez on the mound in the bottom of 14.
But lets talk about the first nine innings.
Indians’ starter Justin Masterson was properly embarrassing the Jays’ hitters at the plate with what looked like a fastball that morphed into a new pitch every time he threw it. It was filthy and – mixed in with a sinker that the bottom floor fell out of – it showed by the lack of plate discipline hitters showed for the first eight innings. Edwin Encarnacion was one guy getting a headshake of disappointment when he twice let two quality pitches go by before hacking over top of a pitch down and out of the zone.
But that didn’t matter by the time he crushed a ball about 500 feet in the air and off the top of the right field wall off closer Chris ‘have another beer and a smoke’ Perez, who was only pitching in his fourth inning of work of the spring (injuries kept him out most of spring training). I couldn’t believe the ball stayed in the yard, but the wind at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field, aka The Jake) knocked it down enough to give Encarnacion a double, scoring pinch-runner Rajai Davis, hot on the heels of Kelly Johnson, to tie the game at fours.
I didn’t understand why Masterson came out of the game, honestly. He threw just over 90 pitches in eight innings and likely could have finished the game out. It was a strange move to bring in a rusty Perez, but hey, I’m not complaining. His fire-balling turned out to be the perfect change for a disheveled Jays line-up that had already struck out 10 times in the game going into the ninth.
So, nothing much ado in the 10th, I think, then I was gone for a few innings. Word from Write Fielder Matthew Strader, was Jays manager John Farrell made the greatest coaching decision ever by bringing in Omar Vizquel as a fifth infielder in the bottom of the 12th when Carlos Villenueva got into some trouble after giving up two walks and a single. They managed to get out of the inning after a double-play ball from Astrubal Cabrera.
Fast-forward to the top of the 15. Kelly Johnson walks. Bautista singles. Two on, none out. Speedster Davis is at the plate for an obvious textbook bunt to advance the runners. He popped up a bunt and as it blooped toward third base, Johnson and Bautista waited to see if it would be caught. So did Davis and it wasn’t caught, turning a sacrifice bunt into a double-play. Encarnacion grounded out to end the inning.
What was impressive about this game, despite Ricky Romero’s 40-plus pitch second inning, the staff was lights out. Romero came out after five innings and from there the bullpen held the Indians to four hits over 11 innings, however, did walk eight. In total, Jays pitchers threw 280 pitches. Thankfully, they’ve got the day off today, they’ll need it.
Anyway back to the game.
Top of 16. JP Arencibia steps up and blasts a moon shot over the right field wall, to put the Jays up 7-4 for good. If the game is any sign of his progression as a catcher, player and team leader, it surely showed in the bottom of the third when a past ball brought Indians OF Shin-Soo Choo from third home, only to slide right into Arencibia’s glove to end the inning, saving a potential run. He also tossed out Choo at second in the sixth inning.
While there were some questionable pitches swung at, some bad decisions in the outfield made (Rasmus and Thames both – but Rasmus also made an incredible run-saving catch early in the game) and some lapses in judgement (Davis, you’re job is to run – so run next time!), overall, the Jays looked exciting out there. Not once did they seem to give up on that game and when the opportunity was right, they took advantage of it. That’s what a good team will do – take advantage of the situation when the opportunity presents itself.
Biggest positive of that game – bullpen.I hope this is a sign of what they’re going to do all season, because they got out of some tough jams late and never seemed to lose any confidence or swagger in their approach. Perez through four solid innings, his off-speed stuff keep hitters at bay. Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver, Jason Frasor and Francisco Cordero all threw single innings and looked in fine form. Frasor looked like he struggled with the control on his breaking stuff, but otherwise, looked strong. Oliver and Cordero, both off-season additions to the pen, threw perfect seventh and ninth innings, respectively, Janssen wedged in for the eighth. It looked like a bullpen outing if the team was winning and even if they lost 4-1, the bullpen would still be the positive plus to this game.
So for more than five hours, I ran the gamut of emotions as an delicate sports fan does when watching the first game of the season but I have to say this: It’s going to be one helluva a season and I couldn’t be more happy to be along for the ride.
note: This was the longest game in MLB open day history, according STATS LLC, the longest in 1,360 opening day games since 1901. The longest game before last night was 15 innings in 1960 between Cleveland and Detroit, and 15 innings between Philadelphia and Washington in 1926 – both mid-April games.
The marathon eclipsed the previous longest openers — 15 innings between Cleveland and Detroit on April 19, 1960, and 15 innings between Philadelphia and Washington on April 13, 1926.