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Let’s Play Two

“Mister Cub” Ernie Banks was quoted, “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!” Although yesterday’s game was just two innings short of a double header, it had all the elements of two games.

O.K., so the weather wasn’t so great but it was a great result!

The Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff used the bullpen effectively and road a J.P. Arencibia three-run home run to win the Opening Day game 7-4 in a Major League Baseball record16 innings in Cleveland.

The Jays’ victory provided a no-decision for Indians starter Justin Masterson who pitched a masterful 8 innings while striking out 10 against a Toronto side that could only muster two hits.

Both benches were taxed and some players logged more than 5 hours in this marathon match played in 6C weather. Seven relief pitchers provided Jays manager John Farrell all the options he needed to stop the Indians from adding to what started out to be a rough outing for the Toronto ace.

Jays starter Ricky Romero ran his pitch count to 96 (55 strikes) over five innings and suffered a tough 43-pitch inning in the bottom of the second. The crushing blow came when he surrendered a three-run home run off the bat of Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan and the Indians took a 4-1 lead. To his credit, Romero did not let the four-run second inning get to him. He went back to the bench, collected himself, cursed into a towel and proceeded to help the Jays shut down the Cleveland offence the rest of the way.

The Jays’ heroics came in the bottom of the ninth inning off Chris Perez. The Indians’ closer could not get it done. His performance showed that he did not get enough workouts during the spring training season due to an injury and was probably not at his best. Until the ninth, Jose Bautista had supplied all of the offence with two hits including his first home run of the season in the fourth. Bautista added another run when he scored Yunel Escobar from third with a sac fly. However, it was Edwin Encarnacion who powered what appeared to everyone as a home run but went off the wall in left to score two runners on the double and tie the game at 4-4.

This was punctuated with Jays closer Sergio Santos’ effort after facing three batters. Santos might have had the save had game-winning reliever Luis Perez not rushed out of the dugout and stalled for him in the bottom of the 16th inning. Under the new rules, if a pitcher comes out to warm up, he must pitch to at least one batter. It appears that the Jays were stalling since Santos was seen walking in from the bullpen shortly before the inning was to start. Santos received a signal and returned to the bullpen and L. Perez was forced to pitch once more. L. Perez earned the victory after pitching four shutout innings.

L. Perez started his day with a four-pitch walk to Michael Brantley in the 12th. That set the stage for more Blue Jays dramatics. Farrell called in Eric Thames and replaced him with veteran infielder Omar Vizquel. The newest Jays left fielder (who had never played left field in his professional career) was brought in to help the infield squash a one-out bases loaded threat in the 12th inning. Part of Vizquel’s support included a pep talk to Perez. The talk did some good as the beefed-up infield turned an inning-ending double play started by Yunel Escobar to Kelly Johnson and Bautista.

Vizquel, who played 10 seasons with the Indians, once played next to former Blue Jays great Roberto Alomar from 1998 through 2001. Vizquel received two ovations from the Indians fans – once while being introduced at the start of the game and the other when he took his first at-bat. Anyone who is a fan of Robbie Alomar might understand how the Cleveland fans feel about Vizquel.

Mr. Opening Day J.P. Arencibia has hit a home run in each of his three opening days. This one was special since it turned out to be the game-winning blast with two men on in the 16th inning and sent the bench into a giddy frenzy.

It was great to see the Jays win but what happened to Rajai Davis on that play with two on and none out? His brain freeze at the plate could have cost the Jays the game. After attempting a bunt, Davis thought he was an out when Indians third baseman Hannahan let it drop and played the ball off the infield grass and out-gunned Jose Bautista. The ensuing relay doubled off Davis who only seconds later realized the ball was in play but it was too late to leg it out.

Among the uninspiring statistics is the Jays 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. It was matched by the Indians 1 for 9. And in case you lost track, the Indians have not scored in their last 14 innings of play. Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow might be in the way of an angry Indians lineup that will be seeking revenge for a home opener loss.

John Farrell is used to this kind of weather. As a former Indian starter, he pitched in the snow.

The game broke the previous mark of a 15 innings played on April 19, 1960 between the Indians and the Detroit Tigers.

While the 16 innings over 5 hours 14 minutes does not make up for the long layoff between Major League Baseball games, this victory comes close.

Welcome back baseball.

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