Indians don't feel frosted after loss in `weird' opener

Late letdown fails to dim `awesome Opening Day'

April 01, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In the Cleveland Indians' youth-heavy lineup, two names stand out as players who have seen just about everything in major league baseball: Omar Vizquel and Ellis Burks.

Until the bizarre "snow ball" yesterday at Camden Yards.

"I've played in snow before, but maybe not that bad," said Burks, whose bloop fly to right field in the third inning scored Vizquel to highlight a three-run rally and give the Indians a lead they didn't relinquish until the eighth.

"You couldn't see it at the plate and I told that to the umpire. When I hit it, I saw it go up, but I didn't see it land. That will probably be on bloops and blunders."

Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons lost the fly in the snow squall and Vizquel scored on what he thought was "a foul ball. After it went like 20 feet up, you couldn't see it. I don't know why they waited so long to [delay] the game."

Vizquel said he has played in snow before - last season in Detroit and one game in the World Series - but the incident lent a strange but perhaps once-in-a-lifetime twist to the season that has just begun.

"What a game," said the Indians' veteran shortstop. "It was an awesome Opening Day. Too bad we didn't win."

Eventually, the team that has undergone a notable payroll slash in the past several years, was a victim of its own mistakes in the late and extra innings.

Nursing a 4-2 lead, reliever David Riske allowed a two-run, two-out homer to Marty Cordova in the eighth that turned the contest into a marathon.

"I tried to be aggressive and left the ball up," Riske said. "I wanted to throw it down and away. He hit a mistake."

Then, after the Indians scored a tiebreaking run in the 12th, a split-fingered fastball eluded catcher Josh Bard and allowed the Orioles to tie again at 5-5.

"I called that pitch and just didn't catch it," Bard said. "He [reliever Danys Baez] should have got the save. That's baseball."

In the fateful 13th, two of Cleveland's four errors combined with Gary Matthews' line drive to center field over Milton Bradley's head finally settled the prolonged affair.

The key was pitcher Jake Westbrook's inability to pick up Geronimo Gil's swinging bunt that might have led to an exit from the threat. Instead, three batters later - with the bases loaded - Bradley started in on Matthews' two-out drive, and had no chance when the ball sailed behind him.

"I knew I had to get it. I just didn't get it in my hand. It was wet and slick," Westbrook said. "It was like the whole day ... weird and interesting."

Cleveland was 19-11 this spring, second best in the Grapefruit League, hit 51 home runs and scored 199 runs, offering hope that its rebuilding plan might be ahead of schedule.

Eric Wedge, at 35 the youngest major league manager since 1985, was not one to criticize his team after it battled through 13 tough innings and the elements.

"It was a long game and we missed some opportunities," Wedge said. "Things happened today that usually happen over the course of five, six, seven games. Our guys will be better for this."

Indians ace C.C. Sabathia was solid for seven innings, leaving with a two-run lead, and was philosophical about the outcome.

"It wasn't real fun out there, but I felt good. I was happy with the way I pitched. You've got to look at this as just one game, with 161 more to go."

Said Wedge: "We had a lot of tough plays, a lot of swinging bunts and the ball at Milton was coming at him. That's one of the hardest plays for an outfielder. A lot of it was the conditions and the nature of the game. We just came up short."

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