TORONTO — This new era of Indians baseball has begun near perfectly, and Cleveland has one of its offseason additions to thank for making it possible.
Though closer Chris Perez blew a save in the ninth inning Wednesday night at Rogers Centre, designated hitter Mark Reynolds eased the pain with a mammoth 11th-inning solo home run that lifted the Indians to a 3-2 victory.
It was the first hit as an Indian for Reynolds, who has led the league in strikeouts four times and had fanned three times in the first two games — twice Wednesday.
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“That’s what he has,” said manager Terry Francona of Reynolds’ blast to left-center off Sergio Santos that reached the second deck. “He’s going to miss sometimes, but when he does that, it’s a game-changer and it was tonight.
“You just have to be patient and let him swing and hopefully he runs into one — hopefully he runs into a lot of them.”
“I’m just happy to get my first hit,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t care if it was a game-winning home run or not. Hopefully, that will kind of make me relax a little and put together some good ABs.”
It was a substantial win, but it wasn’t without a hitch for Cleveland, which watched Perez blow his first save of the year in his second opportunity.
The ninth inning began well for Perez, who, with a one-run cushion, struck out Melky Cabrera to bring the always-dangerous Jose Bautista to the plate. The right-hander got Bautista to miss badly on a first-pitch slider, but he went to the fastball next and the Jays’ No. 3 hitter pounded it into the left-field seats for a tying homer.
“He fooled him real bad with that breaking ball and then he tried to sneak a fastball by him,” Francona said.
“It was bad pitch selection,” Perez said. “He chased that slider and it wasn’t even close. I was trying to run that one in on his feet and make him move and then I was going to go back to the slider, but it didn’t happen. I got too much of the plate and he put a good swing on it.”
Perez hasn’t had the best of luck against the Blue Jays or Bautista recently. He blew a save and took the loss against Toronto on Opening Day at Progressive Field last year.
Bautista, who has beaten up plenty of pitchers over the past two seasons, hit a game-winning homer in July 9, 2011, off Perez in Cleveland.
The Indians failed to capitalize on a top-shelf debut from starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who lasted six innings and allowed just a run on three hits. He struck out six and walked two.
Jimenez, who has struggled since arriving in a trade during the middle of the 2011 season, allowed a homer to light-hitting Maicer Izturis that tied the game at 1 in the third. But he allowed only one hit the rest of his outing, retiring 11 of the last 13 hitters he faced.
“I thought he was outstanding, his secondary stuff, his direction to the plate,” Francona said of Jimenez. “Everything was down.”
Right-hander Joe Smith retired the side in the bottom of the 11th to earn his first career save against the same first three hitters Perez faced — Cabrera, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
It capped a memorable night for the Indians, who are off to their first 2-0 start since 2008.
“It’s certainly way more fun when you’re winning, but I like the way guys are doing things,” Francona said.
“It’s hard to tell, but we are facing a really good team,” Reynolds said of a Toronto club that made a host of offseason moves to become a legitimate contender in the traditionally tough American League East. “It’s a good measuring stick for where we’re at. We came into camp with a lot of optimism. It’s only two games, but it feels good to be 2-0.”