Blake clutch for resilient Tribe

Blake clutch for resilient Tribe

CLEVELAND -- Was this game one or Game 7?

One could scarcely tell the difference Monday at Progressive Field. The standings and calendar said it was the last day of March. The weather, the drama and the intensity screamed October.

Of course, to call the feel of the Indians' 10-8 win over the White Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 41,872 a "playoff atmosphere" is to inherently oversell it. This was, after all, merely Opening Day, 1/162nd of the season schedule.

But even manager Eric Wedge -- a man who oversells nothing -- had to admit this game, in which Casey Blake's three-run double in the bottom of the eighth reigned supreme, had a vivacious vibe. It was a vibe that gave an early test to the mettle of a Tribe team anticipating another dogfight in the American League Central.

"We picked up right where we left off," said Wedge, whose club is otherwise ignoring all talk of last season. "We play a number of tight games. That's the way these guys play. They get after it and play it right through."

The Indians got after White Sox starter Mark Buehrle with a seven-run second inning, sparked by Franklin Gutierrez's three-run homer that crept over the 19-foot wall in left and capped by Victor Martinez's RBI single -- his second base hit of the inning.

But an injury to Martinez, who felt tightness in his left hamstring while trying to advance to second on a pitch in the dirt, that same inning seemed to sap all the life that had been emanating from the Tribe at that point.

Actually, it was long reliever Nick Masset's 4 1/3 innings of nearly spotless work that really stole the Indians' thunder.

And it was reigning Cy Young champ C.C. Sabathia's uneven outing -- five runs allowed on six hits in 5 1/3 innings, including a pair of two-run homers off the bat of Jim Thome -- that jeopardized what had been a 7-2 lead.

Once Sabathia left the game, the Indians' bullpen couldn't preserve a suddenly slim margin. In the seventh, Rafael Perez inherited two runners from Jensen Lewis and let both across on a Paul Konerko double.

The game was tied at 7.

That's when it got interesting.

In the eighth, the Sox were in the enviable position of having the bases loaded with none out. Joe Crede and Juan Uribe had notched consecutive doubles off Rafael Betancourt, who then intentionally walked Nick Swisher. Surely, it seemed, the go-ahead run would come across, particularly when Orlando Cabrera hit a grounder to short and Jhonny Peralta's throw home to backup catcher Kelly Shoppach was high.

Somehow, though, Shoppach came down with the ball and, allegedly, applied a tag to Crede's jersey. The replay evidence was far from conclusive on that matter, but home-plate umpire Gerry Davis called Crede out.

"The ball was there in time, it was just a little high," Shoppach said. "You just have to be heavy enough to come back to the earth quick enough. And maybe I was."

The weight was still on Betancourt's shoulders, because the bases remained loaded with one out. Thome sent a slow roller to second that, again, seemed destined to bring home a run. The Indians had little chance of turning the double play. But as Cabrera was forced out at second, he swiped Peralta's leg with his right arm. Interference was called, and a double play it was.

How does one describe an inning in which a team gets back-to-back doubles, loads the bases with none out and comes out empty-handed?

"That," Blake said, "was pretty bizarre."

Apparently, it was pretty inspiring, too. Because an Indians' offense that had been laboring at the plate ever since the second -- they were, in fact, unable to get a runner on second base in the third through seventh innings -- came alive in the bottom of the eighth.

It began when Shoppach drew a 3-1 count off the newly installed Octavio Dotel, then slapped a ground ball to left. Peralta followed suit with a ground-ball single of his own, and the Indians had some momentum.

"We were persistent," Shoppach said. "We kept at it."

After the Indians' opportunity was dulled by Dotel's quick handling of Ryan Garko and Asdrubal Cabrera, Gutierrez capped a fine Opening Day debut by drawing a walk to load the bases.

That brought up Blake, who is often derided for his .219 career average with runners in scoring position. Blake, though, has a definite flair for the dramatic, and he showed it off on this day. When Dotel came at him with a 1-2 fastball, Blake smacked it high and hard off the left-field wall.

"I was begging for a home run there," Blake said with a smile.

He settled, instead, for a bases-clearing double, which sufficed nicely.

"I got that hit," Blake said, "but it was Shoppy and Jhonny getting on and Gutierrez drawing that walk that made it possible."

Indeed, this game was about much more than Blake's big hit. It was about the Indians doing just what they did throughout their run to the American League Central title last year -- enduring, overcoming and eventually outlasting their opponent.

"It was a wild day," Wedge said. "It took a strong collective effort to win a game like that."

And to think, they still have 161 more to go.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.