Indians face familiar foe in opener

Indians face familiar AL Central foe in opener

Is Opening Night, on national television, against the defending world champions, who, coincidentally, were your biggest rival the previous season, a big game?


But is it a game worth putting more stock into than any of the others on the 2006 schedule?

Certainly not, as far as the Indians are concerned.

"We can't make the big games bigger," right fielder Casey Blake said.

The Indians were probably a bit guilty of that in the final week of 2005, when they saw what seemed to be certain hopes of winning the AL Wild Card and reaching the postseason dashed by suddenly spotty play against the Devil Rays and White Sox.

Now comes an opportunity to forget the past and build an inspiring future.

The Indians get a chance to do so against an opponent that beat them 14 times in 19 meetings, though the battles were closer than the final record indicates. Chicago and Cleveland amassed nine one-run games and five extra-inning contests in that span, building up a rivalry that few people paid much attention to previously.

"If I had to say who our rival was going into last year, I'd say the Twins," left-hander Cliff Lee said. "They had won the division and were the team to beat. Now the White Sox won the division, so they're the team to beat. We want to knock them out of first."

The knocking will have to begin Sunday night.

In this first game, the Indians not only will see how they match up against the defending champs, but they'll also begin the process of trying to build a winning record in April for the first time under manager Eric Wedge.

This is no longer an Indians club just hoping to be competitive. The growth and improvement shown by the team's young core and the influx of veterans such as Paul Byrd and Guillermo Mota brings about an air of high expectations.

Alas, high expectations are what the Indians struggled with last season.

"Last year was the first time that word even crept up -- expectations," Wedge said. "I don't think the expectations were much more than being a contender. Obviously, these guys went out and had a fantastic year but fell short. This year, the expectations are to go out and win this division. That's the way these guys approach each and every day. Now it's about time to go out and see what happens."

All the more reason why this is a big game. And the Indians will have a big man -- namely, C.C. Sabathia -- on the mound to try to win it.

Sabathia was a prime example of the Tribe's '05 season -- scuffling early and solid in the final two months. The 25-year-old has been considered the ace of this staff for several years, but never has that title meant as much as it will this season.

And never in the past few years has Opening Day meant quite as much as it does to this Tribe squad.

"It's going to be a big game," Sabathia said. "It's going to be a good series. We want to get off to a good start and set the tone. They beat us in a lot of one-run games last year. Hopefully this year we can return the favor."

Pitching matchup
CLE: LHP C.C. Sabathia
• 15-10, 4.03 ERA in 2005
• 0-1, 4.63 ERA in 2005 vs. CWS
• 8-3, 4.23 ERA lifetime vs. CWS

CWS: LHP Mark Buehrle
• 16-8, 3.12 ERA in 2005
• 2-0, 2.45 ERA in 2005 vs. CLE
• 7-7, 4.18 ERA lifetime vs. CLE

  Indians probable lineup
1.CFGrady Sizemore
2.LFJason Michaels
3.SSJhonny Peralta
4.DHTravis Hafner
5.CVictor Martinez
6.1BEduardo Perez
7.2BRonnie Belliard
8.3BAaron Boone
9.RFCasey Blake
 P C.C. Sabathia

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
• Gameday
• Official game notes

On television

On radio
CLE: WTAM 1100
CWS: ESPN Radio 1000

On deck
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Indians at White Sox, 2:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Indians at White Sox, 2:05 p.m. ET

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