On a night when New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became just the sixth player in major league history to collect his 1,000th career multi-hit game and Ichiro Suzuki recorded career-hit 2,800th, the game belonged to the Indians offense and the feel-good story of rookie catcher Roberto Perez.
In his sixth professional season, the Puerto Rican native crossed a bunch of major league firsts off the list in a big-league debut – a memorable 9-3 Indians victory.
Perez’s big night began with his first hit and run scored in the Tribe’s go-ahead four-run seventh inning and continued with his first home run and RBI in the host’s two-run eighth inning.
But it gets better. Perez was so anxious throughout the night, he broke the only two bats he brought with him from Triple-A Columbus to Cleveland and had to borrow a bat from shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who swings a much lighter bat,
“He went through all his bats, they were all broken,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He was so nervous and jumpy and excited that when he got (Cabrera’s bat) finally, he started to put the donut on. And you know how the umpires are about keeping the game moving, the guys were all over him and he was a little flustered. And then the very next swing he hits the ball out of the ballpark.”
Perez and the rest of the Tribe’s batsmen were quiet early as Yankees starting pitcher David Phelps kept them off the scoreboard through six innings before the Tribe mounted a late rally.
The early offense in the game came courtesy of the visitors. Right fielder Zelous Wheeler snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a one-out, two-run home run that hugged the left field line and stayed fair just long enough to put the visitors on the board against Indians rookie starter T.J. House.
After the homer, House found himself in a bases-loaded jam following a Lonnie Chisenhall fielding error at third base followed by a Brett Gardner single and Jeter walk with two outs. But House extracted himself without further damage by inducing Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out. Chisenhall's error was his 13th of the season, trailing only the Oakland A’s Josh Donaldson, who owns 15.
The Yankees visitor’s tacked on another run in the fifth inning. With two outs, House hit Francisco Cervelli with a pitch and Wheeler followed with a single that that went right past Chisenhall, who couldn’t be credited with an error, butt he’d likely admit he should made the play. The mental error gave the Yankees new life, as third baseman Yangervis Solarte followed with a RBI single to left field, ending House’s night early.
“There was a lot of traffic tonight,” Francona said. “Last game he kind of flipped that breaking ball for strike one. Tonight he couldn’t do that. Saying that, all the hits and everything, we didn’t really do him any favors defensively and he threw a changeup to Wheeler in a bad spot that cost him two runs.”
The left-hander lasted just 4 2/3 innings, using 94 pitches while giving up the three runs on eight hits and two walks. Right-handed reliever Vinnie Pestano finished up the inning by retiring Brendan Ryan on a called third strike and then pitched to two batters in the sixth – including serving up Jeter’s second single that allowed him to reach the career milestone in his final season before retiring.
The Tribe couldn’t touch Phelps for six innings, but suddenly broke through against him for back-to-back singles by Chris Dickerson (whose third hit of the game matched a career high) and Perez.
The Yankees usually reliable reliever Matt Thorton took over for Phelps looking to quell the threat, but the Indians rally only continued. Jason Kipnis sent a shot right back up the middle that banged off Thorton and rolled away from him, allowing Kipnis to reach safely and load the bases with no outs.
That’s when Cabrera sent a shot to the right field corner that cleared the bases and left him standing on third with a triple. Before the inning was over, Michael Brantley sent a fly ball to shallow centerfield that Ellsbury made a sliding catch to get to, but not quick enough to keep Cabrera from scoring on the sacrifice fly.
In the eighth inning against Yankees right-hander Jim Miller, the Indians continued to pad their offensive stats with a five-run splurge that included a two-run home run by Perez that was originally ruled a double before a crew chief review reversed the call and handed the rookie his first career homer. The Tribe kept the inning going with Brantley adding a RBI single and Carlos Santana a two-run home run that handed the Indians a six-run cushion with which to finish the game.
After the game, Perez was asked if he’d ask Cabrera to use more of his bats.
“Yeah, of course,” he said with a grin. “I'm definitely going to ask him for some more.”