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The good, bad and ugly of Opening Day

April 1, 2008
BY ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle sports editor
CLEVELAND -- Opening Day was good, bad and ugly for the Cleveland Indians on Monday. There was a little bit of everything in the Tribe’s 10-8 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Let’s start with the good:

• The Indians won. Sure, it’s just one of 162 games, but for some reason, it just feels better to win the first one, no matter what happens the rest of the first week.

It would have been an extremely difficult way to start the season if the Indians had blown a 7-2 lead and lost the game.

• Casey Blake delivered in the clutch, ripping a three-run double off Chicago reliever Octavio Dotel with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the game tied at 7. Blake had a couple of bad swings in the at-bat, but then turned on a pitch and just missed a grand slam.

Nobody really mentions it, but Blake — like C.C. Sabathia — is in a contract year. He could be primed for a nice season.

• Franklin Gutierrez went 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs. The White Sox even pitched around the second-year right fielder to get to Blake in the eighth. It’s easy to see why the Indians like Gutierrez. You never know quite what to expect from second-year players who had a little success as rookies, because pitchers will make adjustments against them.

All we have to go on is spring training and one real game, but it doesn’t look like Gutierrez is going the way of Josh Barfield a year ago.

• Jason Michaels’ running catch of Jim Thome’s opposite-field laser shot off Rafael Perez in the seventh inning was the play of the day. Michaels had no chance at the ball, but closed quickly and caught it a half-step from the wall.

Yes, Paul Konerko followed with a two-run double, but if Thome’s shot drops, the White Sox likely would have taken the lead in the seventh.

• The Indians got some breaks. Three close calls went the Tribe’s way. First, Ryan Garko saved an error by Jhonny Peralta by stretching to grab an errant throw and keeping his foot on the bag to retire A.J. Pierzynski to end the seventh inning.

In the eighth, Peralta again made a poor throw on a grounder with the bases loaded and nobody out, but catcher Kelly Shoppach saved the Tribe shortstop and tagged out Joe Crede at home plate.

Moments later, Jim Thome grounded to second and Chicago’s Orlando Cabrera tried to grab Peralta as he slid into into second — wide of the bag — to prevent a double play. Second-base umpire Bruce Dreckman called interference on Cabrera, and the result was an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play.

And now the bad:

• C.C. Sabathia didn’t have it. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner gave up two home runs to Thome in the first three innings and lasted just 5 1/3 innings. Sabathia struck out seven, walked three and allowed six hits and five runs, all of them earned.

Sabathia struggled with his command and threw 100 pitches — 66 for strikes — in those 5 1/3 innings.

He looked a lot more like the guy who struggled in the playoffs in October, rather than the guy who was arguably the AL’s best starting pitcher from April through September.

Indians fans are telling themselves it’s just one game. The Indians better hope they’re right.

• And speaking of bad pitching, how about the Indians’ bullpen? Each of the four relievers Tribe manager Eric Wedge called upon struggled in some way.

Jensen Lewis struck out both hitters he faced in the sixth to get out of jam, but he never registered higher than 89 mph. It seems talk of some lost giddyup on Lewis’ fastball during spring training might have been accurate. The White Sox caught up to him in the seventh, as Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera started the inning with doubles and later scored to tie the game.

Perez faced just two batters in the seventh, and both of them ripped the ball. Thome was retired on a great play by Michaels, but Konerko followed with a game-tying, opposite-field double.

Rafael Betancourt, perhaps the best setupman in the AL a year ago, worked 1 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and a walk. Four of the eight men he faced reached base, although thanks to some good fortune, none of them scored.

Closer Joe Borowski got the save, but had his usual hiccup — this time in the form of a solo home run by Jermaine Dye with one out in the ninth. Borowski’s saves are like that, but the rest of the bullpen was so lights-out last season that it’s troubling to see those guys struggle.

But, hey, it’s just one game.

And the ugly:

• It doesn’t get any uglier than Victor Martinez’s ‘‘slide’’ in the second inning. I use that term loosely, because it looked more like his impression of a guy falling out of a tree than a slide.

Martinez, who singled twice in the Indians’ seven-run second inning, was trying to get to second after a pitch in the dirt skipped away from Pierzynski. But as he approached second base, Martinez appeared to get a spike caught in the dirt, pinwheeled hard to the ground and was tagged out to end the inning.

He was helped up and left the field without assistance, but never returned to the field. Shoppach replaced Martinez and caught the rest of the game. The Indians said Martinez had tightness in his left hamstring and was ‘‘day-to-day.’’

The actual play was ugly enough. It will get even uglier if Martinez winds up on the disabled list for any length of time. His hitting makes him a legitimate MVP candidate, and there is little in the way of catching in the organization behind Martinez and Shoppach.

The Indians are hoping today’s off day will be a built-in plus for Martinez. Remember, he had a minor leg injury in last year’s opener, and did not need to go on the DL.

• There was one other ugly thing. Progressive Field ... I didn’t mind the name until I actually got here and saw it on the facade of what we’ve come to know as Jacobs Field.

The Prog? It just doesn’t work. Let’s hope the name of the next mega-corporation that pays for the naming rights rolls off the tongue a little better.

We’ll only have to wait 16 years.



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