The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


April 1, 2014

Great, for openers!

Indians come through in ninth, survive game 1 pitchers’ duel to defeat Athletics

OAKLAND — The pitching personifications of the future of the Oakland A’s and the uncertain future of the Cleveland Indians squared off on Opening Day Monday and to no one’s surprise it turned into a duel.

Justin Masterson made his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Indians. Entering the final year of his contract, the 29-year-old right-hander refused to let negotiations on an extension derail him in spring training, even when talks broke down on March 20.

Sonny Gray, at 24 years and 143 days old, became the fifth-youngest Opening Day starter for the A’s, a list led by Vida Blue. Right-hander Gray spent most of last season with Triple-A Sacramento.

It took center fielder Nyjer Morgan’s sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single by Nick Swisher in the ninth inning for the Indians to pull out a 2-0 victory over the A’s before a sellout crowd of 36,067 at Coliseum.

The Indians loaded the bases in the ninth off Jim Johnson (0-1, 54.00). Asdrubal Cabrera walked, David Murphy singled to right and Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch. Then Morgan sent a fly ball to center to score Cabrera and Swisher singled up the middle to bring home Murphy.

New Indians closer John Axford pitched the ninth and walked two batters, but struck out Nick Punto for the final out to earn the save. The A’s lost their 10th consecutive opener, the longest streak in major-league history.

It was a matchup of playoff teams from a year ago. The Indians qualified for the American League wild-card game, while the A’s won their second consecutive AL West crown.

For most of the night the spotlight was on the starters. Masterson allowed only three hits in his seven innings, striking out four and walking one. He threw 92 pitches, 61 for strikes. Gray, who needed 29 pitches to get out of the first, threw six scoreless innings and gave up five hits. He struck out seven and walked three while throwing 105 pitches, 64 for strikes.

There was concern whether the game would be played as a cold front moved directly over the San Francisco Bay Area. There were strong thunderstorms during the afternoon and even after the rain stopped, a deluge arrived about an hour before the scheduled first pitch, but the game was not delayed.

Masterson cruised through five innings before the A’s mounted a serious threat. Eric Sogard led off with a walk and advanced on Coco Crisp’s sacrifice. Josh Donaldson singled to center and went to second on a wild pitch. But Masterson took a ball to the stomach and managed to field it for the out, then got Brandon Moss to fly out to center.

Gray looked nervous in the first inning when he walked Morgan and Swisher before wriggling out of trouble.

The Indians put two men on in the fourth, when Carlos Santana led off with a walk and Michael Brantley doubled down the right field line. But Ryan Raburn struck out on a low and outside pitch from Gray. Then Cabrera hit a ball back to the pitcher and Santana was caught in a rundown between third and home. Murphy ended the inning with a grounder to second.

The A’s left the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Yoenis Cespedes singled off Marc Rzepczynski and after pinch-hitter Punto was retired, Cody Allen (1-0) relieved Rzepczynski. Allen walked Coco Crisp and a wild pitch allowed Cespedes to go to second. Donaldson singled off the top of the wall in center field, inches from a home run, but Cespedes did not score. Allen struck out Jed Lowrie and retired Moss on an unassisted play by Swisher at first.

With a scoreless game in the sixth inning, home plate umpire/crew chief Mike Winters tested two new rules, essentially challenging his own call. Winters used the new instant replay system to decide whether A’s catcher John Jaso blocked too much of the plate and failed to give Brantley a lane to score.

With Brantley on third base, Asdrubal Cabrera sent a grounder to pitcher Gray, whose throw to Jaso was in time for Jaso to tag Brantley. But after calling Brantley out, Indians manager Terry Francona came out to talk to Winters and Winters used the challenge.

It took only 59 seconds for the call to be upheld, with replay determining Jaso was allowed not to give Brantley much ground because he had the ball before the runner arrived.

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