Big hits help Tribe claim first victory
Reyes first Indians starter to work into sixth inning in 2009
CLEVELAND -- The frustrations of the season's first five games and the turning tide that finally arrived in the series finale against the Jays could be illustrated in two Trevor Crowe at-bats Sunday.Crowe went down swinging with the bases loaded and two out in the third and snapped his bat in half over his leg. Two innings later, the baseball gods afforded Crowe a second chance at the same situation, and he came through with the two-run double that would prove to be the difference in the Indians' 8-4 victory at Progressive Field. "I had a funny feeling I was going to be put in that situation again," Crowe said. "I thought if I was given that opportunity, I'd have to put up a better at-bat." You might not have expected one of the bigger at-bats of the Indians' young season to come to from Crowe, who was a last-minute addition to the Opening Day roster when David Dellucci strained his calf the last week of Spring Training. And you might not have expected fifth starter Anthony Reyes to be the one to put an end to the Tribe's starting pitching skid. But the Indians, who were on the verge of becoming the first Cleveland club to start out 0-6 since the 1914 Cleveland Naps, weren't going to be picky. This win was welcomed. "It's always different when you get that first win," manager Eric Wedge said. "I think anytime you lose a couple games to start the season off, it makes it a little tougher. But the starting pitchers need to continue to challenge themselves, compete against one another and keep rolling on." Reyes accepted the challenge that came with starting the series and homestand finale with an 0-5 record on the ledger. And he responded with a strong start in which his final line is not really indicative of how well he pitched. Reyes gave up four runs on three hits with three walks, two strikeouts and two wild pitches over six innings. Most importantly, he preserved the early lead afforded him through big hits by Crowe and Mark DeRosa, and he gave his bullpen a fighting chance. "That's the first time we've had a starting pitcher go more than five innings," Wedge said. "For him to get to that sixth was big for us, because it allows you to push deeper into the ballgame." Reyes did his pushing with strong command of his fastball. He did, however, throw a wild pitch with a runner on third in the fourth, allowing the Jays to score their first run, and he hung a fastball to Vernon Wells in the sixth, leading to a two-run homer. "For the most part," Reyes said, "I was able to throw strikes, work the corners and keep them off-balance a little bit." It was right fielder Shin-Soo Choo who looked off-balance in the sixth, when he lost an Alex Rios fly ball in the sun and it landed for a run-scoring triple. Such defensive miscues have been steady for the Indians in the early going. "We need to start making plays," Wedge said. And the batting average with runners in scoring position remains a concern after a day that saw the Tribe go 1-for-9 in such situations. Nevertheless, the Indians did not lack big hits in this one. DeRosa, who snapped himself out of a season-opening slump with a three-run double in the ninth inning of Saturday's loss, came through again with a two-run blast off erratic Jays starter David Purcey in the third. The Indians really could have broken the game open that inning had Crowe not struck out swinging on three pitches with the bases loaded. Crowe's bat paid for it. "I'm embarrassed to say that's happened a few times [in the Minors] before," Crowe said. "I don't know if it's proper etiquette to snap a bat in the fourth at-bat of your Major League career." He'll look back much more fondly on the at-bat that followed. The Indians loaded the bases against Purcey and reliever Shawn Camp, and Crowe smacked the two-run double to the gap in right-center field to make it 5-1. "I don't know how long I'm going to be up here," Crowe said. "So every time [I'm in the lineup], I want to help the team win. I want them to have to say, 'We've got to do something to keep this guy, because he helps the team win.'" The Jays' three-run sixth didn't help matters much. Nor did it help when suddenly shaky reliever Rafael Perez came on in the seventh, walked the leadoff hitter and left two runners in scoring position for Jensen Lewis. But Lewis calmly got out of that jam and worked a scoreless eighth to preserve the 5-4 lead. It looked as though this game would go the way the Indians drew it up in the offseason, with prized acquisition Kerry Wood getting the save opportunity in the ninth. Instead, the Tribe bats came through with an outpouring of insurance against right-hander Brandon League in the ninth. Travis Hafner went deep for the third time in as many games with a two-run rocket shot to right-center, and Choo added an RBI single to push the lead to four. "[Hafner] has hit a lot of balls hard over the years," Wedge said. "But if he's hit one harder than he hit that one today, I don't remember it." The crowd of 14,216 fans was rooting pretty hard when Wood came out to work the ninth. He did so in electric fashion, striking out the side on 13 pitches. Between Wood's outing, Reyes' start and Crowe's redemption, the Indians made it look easy. And that was sweet relief for a team that hit hard times early in '09.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.