Hafner homer ‘Pronks’ Indians in home opener
The New York Yankees’ Travis Hafner connects for a three-run home run off Cleveland starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in the first inning of the Indians’ home opener Monday at Progressive Field. New York won 11-6, with Hafner, a former Indian, driving in four runs in his Cleveland homecoming.
Travis Hafner tipped his cap and soaked in the applause from Indians fans who spent 10 years pulling for him.
The love ended after his first at-bat.
Hafner hit a tone-setting, three-run homer in the first inning and drove in four runs in his Cleveland homecoming, and Robinson Cano busted out of his early slump with two homers as the injury-riddled New York Yankees ruined the Indians’ highly anticipated home opener under manager Terry Francona with an 11-6 win Monday.
In a ballpark he knows better than any, Hafner turned the cheers to boos with one swing.
“If you’re playing for the Yankees and do well, you’re going to get booed,” he said.
Hafner homered in the first off Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1) and added an RBI single in the third. Cano connected in the fifth and sixth for the Yankees, who are trying to hold on until All-Stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira get healthy and come off the disabled list.
Hiroki Kuroda (1-1) shook off a shaky, 34-pitch first and showed no signs of being bothered by a bruised right middle finger as the Yankees finally won a home opener after losing their own and Detroit’s last week.
It was a sweet return for Hafner, who spent 10 seasons with the Indians before signing a one-year, $2 million free agent contract in February with New York. His shot over the fence in center — his 100th career homer at Progressive Field — seemed to deflate Cleveland’s sellout crowd that had been counting down the days until Francona and the Indians came home.
So was that Hafner’s plan?
“Not a bad plan,” he said, smiling.
Hafner, who hit a career-high 42 homers for the Indians in 2006 but was slowed by injuries in recent years, received a warm ovation during pregame introductions.
“It was really special,” Hafner said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. There’s so many people here I know. It’s a little strange seeing people with Hafner Indians jerseys. It was strange coming to the visiting clubhouse and visiting dugout. It was a little weird, but overall it was great being back here.”
Cano walked with one out and Kevin Youkilis singled before a slimmed-down Hafner, who lost 15 pounds during spring training, drove a 2-0 pitch from Jimenez over the wall in center for his second homer with New York. As he rounded the bases, Hafner, the man known simply as “Pronk” was booed — it didn’t take Indians fans long to swear him off as a new enemy.
“They’re passionate fans here,” Hafner said. “I knew with me playing for the Yankees the cheers wouldn’t last too long.”
It was a breakout game for Cano, who came in batting .130 with no extra-base hits or RBIs.
Mike Aviles hit a two-run homer in the eighth for the rebuilt Indians, who lost the opener of a 10-game homestand after going 3-3 on the road.
After Francona was hired in October, Cleveland owner Paul Dolan spent nearly $120 million on free agents like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Brett Myers. The Indians, though, may not have enough starting pitching to contend and that was the case against the Yankees as Jimenez was tagged for seven runs in 41/3 innings.
The Indians beat two Cy Young winners — R.A. Dickey and David Price — on their season-opening road trip, but couldn’t keep pace with the Yankees.