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Bunting?! Arencibia homers in 16th, Blue Jays edge Indians in longest opener ever

David Brown
Big League Stew

If only J.P. Arencibia had put down a sacrifice bunt successfully, who knows? Perhaps the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians might have played another 16 innings on opening day.

Instead, after twice missing a sign and failing to execute imagined orders, Arencibia swung away and connected for a tie-breaking three-run home run in the 16th, helping Toronto outlast Cleveland 7-4 in the longest season opener in major league history.

Arencibia's homer capped an entertaining, if also sloppy and maddening ballgame in which both teams blew opportunities to win. Indians right-hander Justin Masterson dominated for eight innings with 10 strikeouts, but closer Chris Perez blew a three-run lead in the ninth. Toronto's bullpen pitched 11 scoreless innings after starter Ricky Romero struggled. The Blue Jays used former Indians great Omar Vizquel — who is nearly 45 years old — as a defensive replacement in the 12th, bringing him in from left field, technically, in a five-man infield. And the tactic worked out.

Oh, and the teams nearly brawled after Shin-Soo Choo got dusted on a pitch by Toronto's Luis Perez. Someone, stop the madness!

Even though he started 0 for 6 with three strikeouts, Arencibia seemed like a good candidate to do it. He hit two homers on opening day a season ago, and homered twice in his major league debut in 2010. All the Jays needed this time was one big fly. But first, a bunting interlude.

Arencibia stepped to the plate with the score tied 4-all, an inning after Rajai Davis embarrassingly failed to run out a bunt that led to a double play. Coach Brian Butterfield went through his signs twice, and both times Arencibia misunderstood. The second time, he popped a bunt foul to get in a two-strike hole:

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Only a full swing can give a man the kind of joy he has right there. (AP)

"For some reason, I thought I got the bunt sign," Arencibia said. "That got me in two strikes. Then I was just trying to hit the ball. I happened to hit it hard and got it out of the park."

Arencibia was unaware of his gaffe until he got back into the dugout, where Farrell told him what he had done.

"He high-fived me and said, `Great job, you missed a sign,"' Arencibia said, laughing.

And that's why you don't bunt! Why anyone would want him to bunt in that situation, given Arencibia's power and penchant for opening game heroics, who knows? Besides, the best bunting is the red, white and blue decorations they put up on opening day.

A few more notes:

• Indians batters drew 11 walks, but both teams combined to go 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position, stranding 20 total.

• Both teams combined to hit into six double plays, the most egregious coming in the 15th, when Davis stopped and stared at the plate instead of running out a bunt he popped up. Infielder Jack Hannahan let it drop and started an easy 5-4-3 double play to snuff Toronto's rally. Hannahan also hit a three-run homer.

• Colby Rasmus of Toronto and Casey Kotchman of Cleveland went 0 for 7. Rasmus did make the best defensive play of the day in the outfield, though.

There also was a bench-clearing argument in the 15th after Perez threw a pitch up and in to Shin-Soo Choo, knocking him down and prompting him to visit the mound to complain. Both sides had been warned earlier about purpose pitches, but no one was ejected.

Choo later admitted he was being "sensitive" because he had been hit by a pitch on the wrist in 2011, causing an injury that helped ruin his season.

The Blue Jays and Indians get a day off Friday, a quirk built into the schedule because you never know what kind of weather you'll get in early April at the former Jacobs Field in northeast Ohio. And it's a good thing they're resting, because both teams are on a pace to play 2,592 innings.

The regular season is here!
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