Swisher ignites Tribe's home-opening victory party
Homers and drives in three runs; Gomes adds solo shot
CLEVELAND -- Nick Swisher jogged up the first-base line, bat still in hand, admiring his shot as it disappeared into the right-field stands on Friday. After a lengthy rain delay and a quiet offensive showing out of the gate, this home run was worth the wait for Tribe fans in attendance.
If this was the opening act, Cleveland could be in for an exciting show this season.
Swisher's two-run blast woke a subdued crowd and provided a reminder of the many memorable moments seen in Progressive Field over the years. On the 20th anniversary of the stadium's first contest, the blast swung the home opener in the Indians' favor and put them on course for a 7-2 victory over the Twins in front of a sold-out crowd.
"I was just so excited, man," Swisher beamed. "Opening Day. Packed house. The situation that we were in, just to be able to put us up ahead right there, I was just excited about that."
The win capped a day filled with festivities for the Indians faithful.
In the hours leading up to the game, Cleveland announced that it had signed All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year contract extension. After waiting out the rain for two hours and 13 minutes, the sun arrived and former manager Mike Hargrove skipped a ceremonial first pitch to Indians great Sandy Alomar Jr., the team's first-base coach.
The Indians held a moment of silence for late broadcaster Mike Hegan, honored season-ticket holders who have stuck by the team since the ballpark opened its gates in 1994 and celebrated the team's trip to the American League Wild Card Game last October. Cleveland handed the ball to starter Danny Salazar, who was on the hill for that playoff game.
All that was missing from the party was the win.
The Tribe took care of that part as the temperature continued to drop.
"We had a great crowd," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "People braved the weather. I think when you're losing, it feels cold. And when you're up, it's balmy. A lot of people weathered it. Even to the end, some people stayed. That was pretty neat. For us, it's a win. That's what we showed up for."
When the Indians opened then-Jacobs Field on April 4, 1994, Mariners lefty Randy Johnson tried to spoil the day by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Twenty years later, Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey did what he could to torment the Tribe, spinning four perfect innings.
Pelfrey was more furstrating than overpowering.
"He's a great pitcher, man," Swisher said. "He really commands the strike zone with his fastball. Today, he was working in and out, really splitting the corners of the plate. He jammed a bunch of guys there early in the game."
Minnesota's offense did its part early against Salazar, who gave up a solo homer to Chris Colabello as part of a two-run outburst in the first inning.
Salazar did not flinch again in his 5 2/3 innings, even sidestepping a bases-loaded jam with one out in the fifth. In the sixth, Oswaldo Arcia reached with a leadoff single, but he was promptly thrown out by Indians catcher Yan Gomes on a stolen-base attempt of second. The Tribe's starter ended with four strikouts, three walks and seven hits allowed in a no-decision.
"Danny's got plenty of stuff," Francona said. "He doesn't back down."
Things began to tilt in the Tribe's direction at the plate after Carlos Santana broke up Pelfrey's no-hit bid with a leadoff double in the fifth.
Somewhere, Bob Feller made sure the wind was blowing out.
Gomes got things rolling in the sixth inning by drilling a 3-2 pitch from Pelfrey out to center field for a leadoff home run. Designated hitter Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a walk and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from center fielder Nyjer Morgan. That set the stage for Swisher, who took advantage of the strong wind howling out to right.
Cleveland's energetic first baseman sent an 0-1 offering rocketing up into the jet stream and into the seats for a two-run shot that put the Tribe up 3-2. Swisher carried the bat halfway up the first-base line before tossing it aside near the Opening Day logo painted into the grass. After crossing the plate, Swisher fired up the crowd even more by throwing up his arms to make O-H-I-O.
"I think everybody probably gets a kick out of it. Maybe not the other team," Francona said. "Swish, the one thing he is, he's consistent with how he goes about his business. And he shows up every day and plays hard and plays with enthusiasm. I think our guys like it."
The party was underway in Cleveland.
Gomes, Chisenhall and Morgan came through with consecutive hits in the seventh to chase Pelfrey from the contest, giving the Indians a 4-2 lead in the process. Swisher then sent a pitch from reliever Casey Fien off the wall in center for a run-scoring double. Three batters later, Michael Brantley delivered a two-run single that padded Cleveland's cushion.
Brantley was asked after the game what Swisher is like in the wake of such a win.
"He's amped up. Wait until you guys talk to him later. He's ready to go," Brantley said with a laugh. "It was a big swing for us right there. It was another momentum booster, and we just kind of rolled with it the rest of the way out."
Swisher lived up to Brantley's description.
The first baseman had a room full of reporters laughing and exited in typical Swisher fashion.
"Everyone go home and enjoy a hot cocoa," Swisher said. "Happy bro-pening day!"