— EXHIBITION BASEBALL —
Terry Francona froze like a rookie manager.
When the winning run crossed home plate in the ninth inning Friday, giving Cleveland an 11-10 comeback win over the Cincinnati Reds in Francona’s spring debut with the Indians, the two-time World Series winner wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“I just don’t know if everybody knew it was a walk-off,” Francona said with a laugh. “Everybody was kind of looking around. Nobody knew how to act.”
For Francona, it had been a while.
Back in a dugout for the first time since parting ways with the Boston Red Sox after the 2011 season, Francona opened a new era with the revitalized Indians, who after luring him away from broadcasting in October, spent nearly $120 million on free agents to improve a club that lost 94 games last season.
Francona’s got some work to do to get the Indians back into contention, but this was a start.
“Yeah, today was good,” Francona said. “The starters got three innings just like we wanted. Everybody got an at-bat or two to kind of shake off the rust a little bit.”
There was plenty of corrosion as the teams combined for 21 runs, 27 hits, four homers and some horrendous pitching.
The Reds led 10-8 going to the bottom of the ninth before the Indians loaded the bases against reliever Carlos Contreras. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker brought in Drew Hayes and Mike McDade, acquired on waivers from Toronto in November, sliced a three-run double into the left-field corner to win it.
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto singled in his first two at-bats as the defending NL West champions built a 5-0 lead in the first with some help from the Indians, who let an easy fly ball drop to score two runs.
Votto, the 2010 NL MVP, reported to training camp healthy after missing 48 games in 2012 following two arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee. He’s been given a spot on Team Canada’s roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but Votto wants to play a few more games and see how he feels before committing to the event.
The Reds jumped to a quick 2-0 lead off starter Giovanni Soto on two hits, two walks and a passed ball by Indians catcher Carlos Santana, who tied for the AL lead with 10 last season.
Francona pulled Soto after seven batters, but the Indians’ troubles continued when a soft fly ball hit by Cincinnati’s Ryan Hanigan to right-center fell between Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs for a two-run double.
Playing together for the first time, Bourn, a two-time Gold Glove center fielder with Atlanta and Stubbs, who played center for Cincinnati last season, looked at each other as the ball landed on Goodyear Ballpark’s manicured grass like a golfer’s wedge shot kissing a green.
“Not that I want those things to happen, but it’s spring training,” Francona said. “We can work on it.”
Bourn accepted blame for the miscue and miscommunication. With Bourn, Stubbs and left fielder Michael Brantley, the Indians have a speedy outfield that will save runs so long as the ball gets caught. Bourn said it will take some time for the trio to gel.