Indians Blue Jays secondary
By PAUL HOYNES
The Plain Dealer
In the late 1980s, former Indians catcher Chris Bando learned about the knuckler the hard way because he had to catch it from Tom Candiotti and Phil Niekro.
“Trying to catch the knuckler is like trying to throw a blanket over a butterfly in a windstorm,” Bando said of the experience.
If the Indians’ 4-1 victory Tuesday night over Toronto in the season opener at Rogers Centre is any indication, Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia will come to appreciate Bando’s words.
Arencibia was charged with three passed balls, including two in the Indians’ second-inning rally, as he tried to corral the knuckler of R.A. Dickey, who was making his Blue Jays’ debut after winning the National League Cy Young Award last year with the Mets.
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the second and rode the pitching of Justin Masterson and the power of Asdrubal Cabrera to victory. The Indians and Blue Jays opened last season at Progressive Field with the Blue Jays prevailing, 7-4, in 16 innings.
Masterson (1-0, 1.50) struggled through three innings, throwing 70 pitches, before settling into the flow of the game. In the past two years, he’s 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 innings against the Blue Jays.
The victory was the first for Terry Francona as Indians manager. The Indians are Francona’s third managerial stop, but his stomach was flip-flopping like a rookie.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Francona. “I was so nervous the whole game, it surprised me. Early in the game, I realized how much I care about these guys already. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
“I was a nervous wreck. Hopefully, that goes away, the nervous part, not the caring part. I went through three [tins] of tobacco. My tongue is four sizes too big.”
Players, coaches and managers aren’t supposed to chew tobacco in the dugout. Francona hides his with bubble gum.
“I opened so many pieces of gum, my hands are sore,” he said.
In the fifth, Cabrera gave Masterson room to work with a two-run homer off Dickey for a 4-1 lead. The homer, following a single by Michael Bourn, seemed to hang in the air forever before clearing the right-field fence.
“I knew I hit it good, but I didn’t think it was going out,” said Cabrera. “I thought it was too high.”
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the second. Michael Brantley opened with a single for the Tribe’s first hit of the season. After Carlos Santana flied out to center, Brantley took second on Arencibia’s second passed ball of the game. After Mark Reynolds walked, Arencibia was charged with his third passed ball as Brantley and Reynolds advanced.
Lonnie Chisenhall’s grounder to short scored Brantley for a 1-0 lead. Drew Stubbs followed with a single to left to score Reynolds for a 2-0 lead.
Masterson stranded four runners in the first two innings as he faced 10 Blue Jays, but he kept making big pitches when needed. The Jays made it 2-1 in the third, but Masterson once again stopped the damage.
Melky Cabrera opened with a single. Masterson increased the pressure by walking Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases. Adam Lind sent a hard shot to short. Asdrubal Cabrera speared it, but it was hit so hard it knocked him on his rear end. Cabrera still made the throw to second, where Jason Kipnis turned a 6-4-3 double play as Melky Cabrera scored.
Masterson ended the inning by throwing a called third strike past Arencibia.
“That ball was hit hard, but it went right to my glove,” said Cabrera. “That was the game.”
After throwing 70 pitches in the first three innings, Masterson needed only 33 to get through the next three. The big right-hander, 4-1 in his career against the Blue Jays, allowed one run on three hits in six innings. He struck out five and walked four on 103 pitches.