Aside from a two-plus hour rain delay, a long cold, damp day and a constant, bone-chilling wind, the Indians turned a long day at Progressive Field into a memorable home opener Friday.
Here’s some Final Thoughts (in chronological order) on a day that began with another long-term contract extension for a young player, featured a come-from-behind victory and ended with an early candidate for Quote of the Season by a charasmatic veteran.
1) It took the Indians front office longer than they would have liked to finally sign second baseman Jason Kipnis to a long-term deal. But with patience from both sides, middle ground was finally found as Kipnis agreed to a six-year, $52.5 million extension.2) Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti marveled that both sides managed to keep the deal quiet since last Sunday, pending a physical. But the real marvel was that both sides kept at it so long without giving up. Antonetti said the club first discussed an extension with Kipnis, now entering his third full season in the big leagues, back when he only had 69 days of service time. 3) So what took so long? Kipnis' agents suggested his main priority was the team’s chances of contending in the near future. Money, they said, was secondary. Typically when anyone in pro sports says “it’s not about the money”, you can bet your bank account it’s indeed all about the money. In this case, however, perhaps not so much – directly at least. 4) Kipnis’ signing is part of the domino effect that began when Terry Francona was brought in as manager. Francona’s arrival attracted free agents like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The veterans coming on board played a part in helping many youngsters learn how to win - and have fun doing it, which in turn led to Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Kipnis’ willingness to become the 2014 version of former GM John Hart’s original lock-up-the-youngster’s plan from the early 1990’s. 5) Kipnis’ deal includes a club option for 2020 and covers this year, three of his arbitration-eligible seasons and two free-agent seasons. He becomes the 16th member of the club’s 25-man roster who is control through at least the 2016 season. 6) One dominant line of thinking being floated around is that since the Indians haven’t been able to agree to an extension with ace pitcher Justin Masterson, they’re instead using the cash that had been earmarked for keeping him in Cleveland for a few more years by spreading it around to the youngsters. After Kipnis’ presser, Antonetti said that wasn’t the case that the door is still open for talks with Masterson’s agent. 7) The optimistic fans that packed into Progressive Field early and then waited out the long delay began to get restless when the sun peeked put from beneath the clouds for a brief period about an hour into rain-delay mode. It may have been briefly sunny, but the weather forecast showed another rain cell headed through the area soon. But fans didn’t realize such and began getting restless and began booing. 8) What they may not have realized is that neither team wanted to burn its starting pitcher for what would eventually amount to a rain-shortened outing if they weren’t patient. Doing so could cause each team to blow through their bullpen unnecessarily or worse, mess up the starting rotation for the time being if things really got out of hand. In the end, waiting out the weather was the right move. Freezing cold fans, especially those who did wait out the lengthy delay, may not have thought so. But it was a wise decision as far as the game was concerned. 9) Swisher, who went 2-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored, got a bulk of the attention after the game for igniting the win. Overshadowed a bit by the outgoing Swisher was Carlos Santana’s fifth-inning double that broke up Twins starter Mike Pelfrey’s perfect-game bid and Gomes’ solo homer that led off the sixth inning and gave the Tribe its first run. 10)Afterwards, it was nice to see many players shared the love. Brantley praised Gomes for starting the scoring. Swisher praised Nyjer Morgan’s sacrifice that helped “take the pressure of him” and set up his two-run home run. Such willingness to share the limelight is an example of the overall unselfishness of this club. 11)It didn’t end up becoming a big deal, but probably would have in a different era, when the over zealous Swisher pimped his home run blast a little too long. Not only did he carry his bat at least a quarter of the way up the first base line as he started to round the bases, but then performed the famous O-H-I-O moves of his alma mater after he crossed home plate. 12)Luckily for Swisher, the next time he came up to bat in the eighth inning, there were runners on base (Chisenhall and Morgan each singled ahead of him). Otherwise, old-school baseball wisdom, from old-school Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire no less, would have had a Twins reliever drill him in the back for showing up Pelfrey earlier. 13)Although it’s something to keep an eye on come Saturday’s game, Francona brushed off the subject of revenge after the game. “The game has changed,” he said with a shrug when a reporter asked the veteran manager about the possibility of future paybacks over the weekend series. 14)Much like the two young starters before him in Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, Friday’s Indians starter Danny Salazar struggled with his fastball command. It didn’t help that the right-hander’s off-speed pitches weren’t up to par either. But Salazar battled, most notably by getting out of a fifth-inning, bases-loaded-jam with one out. But hanging in there until the offense got going against Pelfrey is another way Salazar continues to display maturity beyond his years. 15)Salazar, who at 24 years, 83 days, became the youngest Indians pitcher to start a home opener since right-hander Dennis Eckersley did so in 1976, finished with a decent line even with his early struggles. He limited the Twins to their two first-inning runs over 5 2/3 innings, despite giving up seven hits and three walks. 16)After Salazar’s two-run first inning, the Twins never scored again, as Josh Outman, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Blake Wood each took their turn at successfully blanking the visitors. Although he pitched just 2/3 of an inning and faced only two batters, the lefty Outman picked up a rare win. Wood quietly, but efficiently, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning while striking out the side. 17)Swisher, as he often does, earns the Quote of the Day for creativity alone, one that’s in the early contention mix for possible Quote of the Season. After his post game presser, the charismatic first baseman smiled wide, told the assembled media to “go home and get a hot cocoa.” Then, in true Swisher style, yelled “Happy Bro-Opening Day!” and headed out the door. As corny as it may sound in print, Swisher seems to have a way of making things like that seem cool in real time.