CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana has been known to have slow starts to the regular season, often struggling through March and April throughout his career. Not this year.
After carrying his offense through its first six games of the season, Santana delivered his fifth career walk-off home run to lift the Indians to a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Friday. It was his first since June 17, 2016, against the White Sox, and the earliest walk-off homer by date in Indians history (previously April 8, 2018, by Yan Gomes). Those five walk-off homers are tied for the third-most in Indians history (since 1925) with Cory Snyder, trailing Jim Thome (nine) and Albert Belle (six).
“It was a great moment,” Santana said. “Everybody knows this is my sweet home and I’m so happy to come back. I’m happy for that and happy for the support from my teammates, so I’m happy and it’s positive.”
In a season with so much turnover and plenty of young, inexperienced bats in the lineup, the Indians have needed Santana to lead this offense and he’s done just that. He entered play on Friday tied for the American League lead in batting average. After hitting .153 through March and April last year, he’s averaged .417 (10-for-24) with six RBIs through the first seven contests of 2019. The 32-year-old has hit safely in six straight games and has driven in a run in four of his last five games.
“Obviously runs have been hard to come by, watching him use the whole field [has been nice],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His first at-bat, he hit a ball to short, he didn’t hit it real hard. The kid made a nice play, but he didn’t abandon that approach and it won us a game later.”
Bieber sharp in first outing
It was one pitch that separated Shane Bieber from having a flawless first start of the season. After allowing one hit through the first 4 1/3 frames, the 23-year-old righty gave up a two-run blast to Freddy Galvis to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead.
“I was trying to go fastball up and in to get in on him and it leaked back over middle-middle and he got me,” Bieber said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s one pitch, but that’s how the game goes.”
Bieber went on to toss six quality innings with nine strikeouts, walking just two batters. He has now walked two or fewer batters in 19 of his first 20 career starts, which is tied for the best mark in baseball since 2000.
“He left a fastball to Galvis,” Francona said. “He didn’t locate it where he wanted to. Other than that, I thought he was terrific, using his breaking ball. He hadn’t pitched a lot the last 10 days. We kinda had said 90 [pitches] was the benchmark and he got maybe a pitch or two above it, but I thought he pitched really well.”
With the two scheduled off-days in the first six days of the Indians' schedule, Bieber had to wait a few extra days to make his first start of the year. He worked out of the bullpen on Sunday, allowing one run on two hits in two innings of relief, which he said wasn’t necessarily a problem as he prepared to settle into his starting role.
“It was different,” Bieber said. “But at the same time a situation shouldn’t have to be perfect for you to go out there and perform. It was definitely different, but I don’t think it was a problem at all. I was able to settle back into a semi-normal routine after that to prepare for this start.”
Kevin Plawecki tied the game on a solo homer in the third and the Tribe’s bullpen shut Toronto down after Bieber was pulled, allowing just one hit through the final three frames. Bieber said he was in the clubhouse as he watched Santana get showered in ice water after he crossed the plate.
“Hats off to the bullpen, they came in and shut it down,” Bieber said. “And then 'Los. I feel like everybody kinda had that feeling that it was going to happen. Whether it was Jake [Bauers] or ‘Los or whoever it may have been. It was just a really good team win tonight.”