CLEVELAND — A “Let’s Go Tribe” chant echoed through Progressive Field prior to the start of the home opener against the Yankees on Monday.
By the time the seventh inning rolled around, it was difficult to hear anything but boos.
A highly anticipated first game in front of the hometown fans turned sour quickly, with the Yankees opening up a substantial lead before settling for an 11-6 victory over Cleveland, which dropped its fifth straight home opener.
New York was without a wealth of its big-named players, but did have All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano and none other than Travis Hafner, the former Indians slugger who signed with the Yankees in the offseason after a lengthy tenure in Cleveland.
Both loomed large in their team’s offensive output.
Cano, a notorious Indians killer, went 3-for-4 with two solo home runs and a pair of RBIs. Hafner celebrated his return with a three-run homer in his first at-bat and added an RBI single and two walks.
“Haf was here for a long time,” said Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley of Hafner, who spent 10 years with the Indians before signing with the Yankees in the offseason. “I had a great relationship with him and wish him the best of luck. He beat us today.”
It was actually a poor performance from Ubaldo Jimenez that beat the Indians.
Failing to capitalize on a brilliant debut in Toronto, the right-hander resorted to his old ways. With decreased velocity and spotty location, Jimenez surrendered seven runs on seven hits (two homers) over just 4⅓ innings.
“I got to the mound and nothing was working, my fastball, my curveball,” Jimenez said. “I’m not going to put anything as an excuse. I just had a bad day.
“It’s a little bit (alarming), definitely, because you want to keep it going, but it’s early in the season. I have to worry about my next game and forget about this one.”
“I thought it was a struggle for him to get loose,” manager Terry Francona said of Jimenez, who walked four and struck out six. “I thought he kind of fought his mechanics. It was kind of evident from the beginning that it was a struggle.”
In a scene dripping with irony, Jimenez served up a three-run homer to Hafner four batters into the game, Hafner connecting on a 2-0 pitch and sending it over the center-field wall.
“He’s a good hitter,” Jimenez said. “He’s a power hitter. He was in a hitter’s count and put a good swing on it.”
Cleveland fought back against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, matching New York’s first-inning output. But unlike Jimenez, Kuroda, a Japanese right-hander, didn’t crumble.
While New York added on, Kuroda shut down the Indians after the first, allowing just two more hits the rest of his outing, which covered 5⅓ innings. When Kuroda left, the Yanks led 8-3.
“We had a chance. He was on the ropes,” Francona said. “To his credit, he went back out there and stayed in there long enough. We probably got a little aggressive.”
It was a special day for Hafner to say the least.
He was cheered loudly during pregame introductions, tipping his cap to his former fans. Then, he was booed lustily as he approached the plate in the opening inning before providing his new club with an early spark.
“It was fantastic. It was special,” Hafner said of the pregame ovation. “It’s nice to contribute to a win. My job is to drive in runs. When you put on a Yankee uniform you think about all the history and the great players that have worn it.”
To make matters worse, Cleveland lost catcher Carlos Santana to an injury in the ninth inning. He appeared to be crossed up by closer Chris Perez and took a 93-mph fastball off his thumb just above the glove.
Santana underwent X-rays after the game, with the Indians expected to provide an update today.
It was a bad day all around for the hometown team. Reporters had spotty Internet access at best, while the phones in the Yankees dugout and bullpen were inoperable. Umpires made the Indians turn off their phones.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
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