TORONTO: Just one series is complete, but the Tribe might be on its way to discovering its trademark for the 2013 season.
As closer Chris Perez pronounced Wednesday night, “This team has more than one way to win.” And the Indians seem capable of almost effortlessly switching personas, going from playing small ball to a power surge in an inning or two.
One moment, the Indians are the Bash Brothers reincarnated, like Thursday night against the Toronto Blue Jays when Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds smashed back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning of a 10-8 loss.
The next minute, they’re scratching out a run on Michael Bourn’s double to shallow left and Michael Brantley’s single through the hole at short like they did in Wednesday’s 3-2, 11-inning victory. Or pushing home two runs on two hits and two passed balls in Tuesday’s 4-1 triumph.
Through three games, no deficit seems insurmountable. On Thursday, the Indians fell behind 6-3, but rallied to tie it 6-6. They trailed 9-6 after six innings, but closed the gap to 9-8 in the eighth.
Even before he saw that, Perez was pumped about the possibilities.
“The last couple years, it hasn’t been that way, so it’s exciting to see,” Perez said. “If we’re down early, we’ve got the potential to come back. Where the last couple years you get down three or four, it’s like, ‘We’ll get ’em tomorrow.’ At least we’re never out of the game now.”
When Perez gave his “More than one way” analysis, he was referring to the offense, with no disrespect to the defense and bullpen.
“Some nights, we’re going to be able to win with long balls,” Perez explained Thursday. “Some nights, we’re going to be able to win taking extra bases, like the first night, using those passed balls to our advantage. Other nights, it’s going to be a close game and it’s going to be small ball. Get the guy on, move him over, bunt, do the little things.
“I think our team is athletic enough to do that. We’ve got athletes up and down our lineup. If our bats haven’t been there in a while, it’s nice to have the speed that can turn a single into a double or a double into a triple. It’s going to give our offense chances to score.”
To some, versatility might not seem all that unusual. The 1975 Big Red Machine had “Hit King” Pete Rose and home-run stars Johnny Bench, George Foster, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. Every team knows how to manufacture runs.
But the Tribe has a new wild card — speed. Newcomers Bourn and Drew Stubbs join Brantley, making the Indians more dangerous on the bases than they have been in years.
“We’re going to strike out,” Indians manager Terry Francona said Thursday, with Reynolds (who won Wednesday’s game with an 11th inning homer) and Stubbs the most likely candidates. “But we’re probably the rare combination of guys who strike out plus speed. You don’t see that that much. Hopefully you’ll see more of the latter.”
The talents of the “More than one way” Indians could contribute to a positive mindset that Perez believes will help the Indians’ starting pitching.
“If you’re a starter and you fall behind 3-0 in the first, get your stuff together and make it through five or six and you might win that game,” Perez said. “It has to be encouraging for those guys. I know last year they felt like, I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but it felt like if they gave up a two-spot early on, it’s pretty much, ‘Game over.’ It should be more encouraging for them to attack the strike zone.”
No. 1 starter Justin Masterson wasn’t sure if the athletic lineup changes his mindset. But he saw positives in playing more than one way.
“If you get the bases loaded, keep it to one or two. … Stop the train before everyone starts riding on it and you know we have a chance even if we get down,” Masterson said. “We can bunt some guys around, we can play some small ball, then we’ll have Mark Reynolds hit 500-foot shots.
“That’s our game. We’re not defined by one. Our mentality has developed into the fact that it’s OK to play the small-ball game. It’s OK to play the big-boy game and do it at the same time. It’s not like ‘We have to sit back and try to get bombs.’ Or ‘Everyone needs to bunt.’ We can mix it. It gives each individual an opportunity to say, ‘My turn. This is my piece,’ and everyone is happy about it. If a guy sacrifices himself for the rest of the guys, he’s going to get some good respect for that.”
In recent years, fans became used to seeing the Indians fall behind as their starting pitchers struggled, left to hope that Santana or the since-departed Travis Hafner would bring them back with one swing. An ending to that rarely rewarded pipe dream can’t come soon enough.
“That’s the name of the game, having versatility, [finding different] ways to win,” Bourn said. “Every good team to me has that about ’em. We’re able to do that right now, hopefully we can keep it going throughout the season.”
And if “More than one way” becomes the Tribe’s trademark?
“I hope so. I hope so,” Bourn said. “You just want to be known as a good offense. Gotta have it any kind of way.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.