The Indians finally decided to show up for the 2009 season, winning their first game today 8-4 over the Toronto Blue Jays. Here are my brief thoughts on the game.
1. I was in attendance at the game today and it was the smallest turnout I can remember seeing since the Indians moved into the new stadium. Announced attendance was at 14,216, which according to ESPN is 32.7% capacity and it seemed much emptier than that. The upper deck was almost completely empty - at one point being populated by more birds than fans. I know it was a) Easter b) Cold c) the Tribe has been playing poorly and d) the Cavs were playing the Celtics in the Q (1 more game to clinch home court throughout the playoffs!) but it was disheartening to the see the stadium so empty so early in the season. If the Indians fall out of contention sooner rather than later, we may start see old Stadium-sized crowds returning. Given the choice between the Cavs and the Indians right now, I think most fans would choose to spend their limited resources on a winner.
2. Anthony Reyes was solid, but not spectacular today. However, in comparison to the recent starting pitching of the Indians, he was an All-Star. Reyes had some trouble locating his pitches (only 53 of his 96 pitches were for strikes) and walked three batters, but other than his last inning of work, kept the damage to a minimum.
3. Like Reyes, Blue Jays' starter David Purcey had all sorts of trouble finding the plate. I don't know if it was the cold temperature, but Purcey bounced at least ten balls and sailed two over the head of Rod Barajas. Somehow, despite this wildness and walking 6 batters, Purcey also managed to strikeout ten Indians. Fellow CMCR writer, Biff, who attended the game as well, pointed out that the Indians showed some awful plate discipline today - and helped Purcey out of a couple situations that could have been a lot worse.
4. Before the game, Biff and I were talking about the impact that speed can have on a team. Grady Sizemore showed that in the first inning, creating a run himself ala Kenny Lofton. Sizemore walked to lead off the game, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch by Purcey and scored when Barajas threw the ball into the outfield. Though Sizemore would have been dead at third with a good throw, because of his speed, Barajas was forced to rush his throw and the Indians were gifted a run without the aid of a hit in the inning. Shin-Soo Choo also stole a base in the game.
5. Mark DeRosa gave the Indians a 3-0 lead when he launched his first home run of the season into the left-field bleachers. I was glad to see DeRosa hit one out as I was worried his power numbers might be affected negatively leaving the wind-aided confines of Wrigley Field. DeRosa still looks a little uncomfortable at the plate, after a very solid Spring Training. It's possible he's pressing a bit, trying to make an immediate impact with his new team.
6. Trevor Crowe provided the highlight of the season thus far. With runners on second and third and two outs, the Blue Jays chose to pitch around Ryan Garko issuing the "unintentional-intentional" walk. Trevor Crowe came to the plate with the bases loaded, looking for his first major league hit, and promptly struck out. Crowe then snapped his bat over his knee in frustration - a throwback to Bo Jackson. Then, in a twist of baseball fate, Crowe came back two innings later in the same situation, two outs with the bases loaded. This time, Crowe ripped a double to right-center scoring two runs. It was good to see Crowe not let his first at-bat get into his head and come through with a key hit in a key situation. The more Crowe produces, the greater the chance we will not be seeing Dellucci on the field again.
7. Pronk Patrol: Travis Hafner looked awful in his first three at-bats. Two swinging strike outs and a caught looking for the hat trick. However, Pronk worked a walk in his fourth plate appearance and in the ninth inning, with the Indians clinging to a one-run lead, hit a no-doubter into the right-field stands, providing two very large insurance runs. If you told most fans before the season started that Pronk would be batting .300 with 3 HRs a week in, they'd be thrilled. I'm going to give Pronk the benefit of the doubt in saying that he looks like someone working to regain their comfort level at the plate. He's had some bad swings so far this season, but he's also had some very, very good ones, reminiscent of Pronk swings from the past. The swing Hafner had when he hit the double in the first game of the series against the Blue Jays was the best swing I've seen Hafner had in two years. He's now hit home runs in three straight games. I'm not a believer that he can keep this up for the course of the season yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic.
8. Jhonny Peralta draws the ire of a lof of Indians' fans for his defense, sometimes deservedly so. However, his offensive production often goes overlooked. It might surprise you to learn that Peralta lead the American League in home-runs from the shortstop position last year with 23. Today he went 3 for 5, raising his batting average on the season to .333. He had multiple hit games every game in the series. Peralta seems to approach the plate with a Manny Ramirez mentality - he seems to have no short-term memory of any previous poor at-bats. I think that he can be a steadying force in the lineup.
9. Finally, Kerry Wood was lights out today, striking out the side in the 9th inning on 13 pitches. Wood was hitting the high nineties on the rader gun and just attacked the Blue Jays hitters. Hard to think that at this time last season we were being subjected to Joe Borowski's 80 MPH meatballs. Wood also seemed to energize the crowd, receiving one of the largest cheers all day when he took the mound. Hopefully he will have a save situation to pitch in sometime in the near future.
Tribe begins its series at Kansas City (3-3) tomorrow at 8:10. Carmona (0-1 10.80 ERA) will be looking for his first win against Zach Greinke (1-0 0.00 ERA)