J.P. Arencibia played the hero, hitting a three-run homer off Jairo Asencio in the top of the 16th inning to lead the Blue Jays past the Indians, 7-4, in the longest Opening Day game on record.
The game should have ended in nine, but Chris Perez blew a three-run lead for Cleveland after an outstanding performance by Justin Masterson (8 IP, 1 R, 10 K).
After that followed some rather rare events. The Jays went to five infielders with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th and induced a double-play ball from Michael Brantley to send the game to the 13th. That play led to Omar Vizquel’s second ever appearance in the outfield, though he was playing between second base at the time. Vizquel then moved to first base the next inning, making just his second career appearance at that position.
The 15th inning saw the benches clear after Luis Perez buzzed Shin-Soo Choo, who was hit in the back 12 innings prior. Choo took several steps toward the mound, causing the benches and bullpens to empty. Order was quickly restored, though, and there were no ejections.
Arencibia helped ended it the next inning, delivering the homer after going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts previously. Jose Bautista was the Jays’ other offensive star, going 3-for-4 with a homer and two walks. Perez got the win after throwing four hitless innings of relief. Jairo Asencio took the loss for Cleveland in his third inning of work.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.