CLEVELAND — It was celebration day at Progressive Field on Friday — and the festivities began early.
During the morning hours, the Indians announced they had agreed to terms on a contract extension with all-star second baseman Jason Kipnis.
In the afternoon leading up to the home opener, the team fought inclement weather to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Jacobs/Progressive Field — a 20-year span that included eight postseason appearances.
Then, after waiting out a two-hour and 13-minute rain delay, the Indians won their first regular-season game of the season in Cleveland, rallying to turn back Central Division rival Minnesota 7-2 in front of a sellout crowd.
Other than the rain and cold (46 degrees at first pitch), it was pretty much a perfect day to be wearing Indians colors.
“We had a great crowd, people braved the weather. It was pretty neat,” manager Terry Francona said.
“For us, it’s a win. That’s what we showed up for about 12 hours ago. That’s what we got, so that’s good.”
The win snapped a skid of five straight losses in home openers for the Indians, who improved to 11-10 in the first game of the year at Jacobs/Progressive Field.
But it appeared after all the pomp and circumstance that the Twins and starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey would put a disappointing capper on the party at “The Prog.”
Cleveland didn’t muster a hit or baserunner off Minnesota’s right-hander over the first four innings, and failed to capitalize on its first hit after Carlos Santana led off the fifth with a double to right field.
Meanwhile, Twins hitters took advantage of a shaky Danny Salazar early to score two runs in the opening inning — one on a solo home run from Chris Colabello.
Salazar settled in to hold Minnesota scoreless over the remainder of his outing, allowing seven hits, while walking three and striking out four over 5⅔ innings.
“I thought he battled his fastball command today and he wasn’t throwing his breaking ball where he wanted to, so they’re sitting on one pitch that he wasn’t commanding,” Francona said. “I thought we were kind of fortunate that they didn’t spread the lead out.”
“I didn’t have my good stuff today,” Salazar said. “I was a little bit nervous in the beginning. I kept the team in the game. Then after that, we started swinging the bats.”
With much of the crowd gone, the complexion of the game turned drastically in the sixth inning.
Yan Gomes got Cleveland on the board with a leadoff homer off Pelfrey, who walked the following batter, Lonnie Chisenhall. Nyjer Morgan moved Chisenhall to second on a sacrifice bunt, with Swisher putting the Indians in front for good on a two-run blast to right-center.
Swisher, who also had an RBI double in the seventh, celebrated the big homer with a bat flip well down the first-base line and in front of the visitor’s dugout before giving the crowd an O-H salute after crossing home plate.
“I think what really got us going was Gomer and Swish,” Francona said. “The way we were swinging, it looked like two runs were going to be a lot. It goes to show, if you keep the game close and hang in there, you’ve got a chance.”
Swisher and Gomes loomed large, but there were other offensive contributors, including Morgan, Chisenhall and Michael Brantley.
Morgan extended the lead to 4-2 with an RBI single in the seventh, while Brantley made it 7-2 on a base hit in the same inning. Chisenhall reached base in three of his four trips to the plate, joining Swisher, Morgan and Gomes with multihit efforts.
“I think that’s kind of our thing,” Swisher said. “We got nine gritty guys that are going to put together quality at-bats every day. We don’t have that one superstar that’s going to be able to hit you 50 to 60 home runs. We’ve got to do it collectively as a unit. I think that’s why we take a lot of pride in who we are as a team.”
The never-quit mantra the Indians developed last year has been on display over the club’s first four games of the season.
“Maybe that will be the identity of this team, the fact that we’re going to fight,” Swisher said. “Regardless of the situation or the obstacle in front of us, we’re always going to take that head-on.”
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