CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians home opener was a game of struggle.
The two biggest acquisitions over the past 12 months of Indians baseball did not have the best days, while some of the team’s diamonds in the rough helped grind out a 2-1 win in a 10-inning offensive struggle.
Edwin Encarnacion had what could have very well his most frustrating day ever in what has been a frustrating career for pitchers that opposed him. The $60 million man struck out twice and grounded into two inning-ending double plays with the bases loaded.
It didn’t matter.
Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller looked human for the first time since the second-half of the 2016. Though he did not necessarily struggle, Miller allowed hard hit balls, which at high-90s speeds almost were his undoing.
It did not matter.
Miller, usually one to get the Indians out of jams, was escorted towards the emergency exits of a potentially fatal 8th inning on a diving stab by Yandy Diaz at third base.
The rookie, who was spoken of with cautious optimism on defense, made the second out after back-to-back hits by the eight- and nine-hitters of the White Sox defense before Miller closed the door with a strikeout of Tim Anderson.
Diaz said he reacted blindly, only to find a positive result.
“Yeah, I can’t tell you what happened because the ball just went into my glove,” the Cuban third baseman said through interpreter Anna Bolton. “I saw the ball was in my glove when I get off of the ground.”
The game’s hero, Michael Brantley, casted doubt as to whether or not Diaz’s dive saved one run or more.
“It was a game-saving play at that time,” Brantley said. “If the ball gets through, I don’t think I’m throwing out (pinch runner Leury Garcia).”
Behind the brilliance of the unlikely hero was another face from the shadows, third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh, who re-positioned Diaz and put the 25-year old in a place to succeed.
Perhaps the perfect place.
“That was a great play, but I’ll tell you what, Sarby deserves an assist,” manager Terry Francona said. “About two pitches before that, he turned to me and goes, ‘hey are you OK if I back him up a couple, three steps.’ If he doesn’t back (Diaz) him up, he doesn’t have a chance to make that great play.”
With the team getting a breath-taking play on the heels of a shrewd move, they still looked for a breakthrough offensively. With unlikely support abound, Brantley stepped to the plate as a man not quite forgotten, but lost in a shuffle of AL Championship glory.
The man affectionately known as Dr. Smooth re-emerged the hero after a long wait, drawing relief from his teammates and skipper after seeing the struggle pay off.
Even in his glory, the veteran remained Smooth, eschewing the idea of extra pressure to perform.
“Not when you are a good team like we are,” Brantley said “We can beat you one-through-nine. We have a great group of guys in that locker room. We just did that with two outs, it can happen anytime.
“There’s no sense of urgency, there is no rush, you’ve got to play the game and take what the game gives you.”