"We battled tough," said closer Chris Perez, who picked up his second save in as many nights. "That's going to be the trademark of this team. We're not going to give up."
Starter Justin Masterson didn't give up much. But he didn't last all that long, either. And so this game really came down to the fortitude of the bullpen, with the final push coming through some 11th-inning small ball.
Masterson allowed just a run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. But he needed 92 pitches to do so, and he only lasted five innings. The early exit was something of a trend in this series, as Opening Day starter Jake Westbrook went four-plus innings and Fausto Carmona went six.
"But they gave us a chance to win," manager Manny Acta said. "That's what's important. You'd like them to go seven innings, but that's not the reality. Not only in Cleveland, but with the other clubs, too."
The reality when Masterson departed was that the Indians were clinging to a 2-1 lead. It was attained through the work of Michael Brantley and Sizemore against Sox starter Gavin Floyd. In the third, Brantley singled off Floyd, moved to second on Cabrera's sacrifice bunt and scored on Sizemore's single. In the fifth, Brantley drew a walk and scored from first on Sizemore's double to make it 2-0.
The Sox got a run in the bottom of the fifth when Masterson walked Quentin with the bases loaded.
It was a 2-1 ballgame when Acta turned to his bullpen, much earlier than he'd like. Jamey Wright and Tony Sipp each walked a guy in the sixth, but neither of the runs came home. But in the seventh, Sipp walked the leadoff man and handed the ball over to Joe Smith. Three pitches later, the Sox took the lead on Carlos Quentin's two-run shot to left-center field.
If it looked dire for the Tribe at that moment, the feeling didn't last long. The bats responded in the eighth against Matt Thornton, with Jhonny Peralta scoring Travis Hafner from first on a double to right to even the score.
That the score remained that way and dragged into extras was a credit to Rafael Perez, who worked a scoreless eighth, and Jensen Lewis, who came on with a man on in the ninth and didn't bend. Lewis also worked a 1-2-3 10th inning, looking more like the guy who saved 13 games down the stretch in '08 than the guy who labored last year.
"We want to be a team within a team," Lewis said of the relief corps. "We want guys to lean on us and know that they can count on us."
All the outs recorded by the relievers were necessary, but the Indians still needed the go-ahead run.
It came in the 11th, thanks in large part to the legs of Luis Valbuena.
Valbuena led off the 11th against J.J. Putz and sent a bunt scooting down the third-base line. It was a close play at first, but Valbuena, who bunted on his own, just barely beat out the throw.
"I just wanted to get on base any way I could," Valbuena said.
Acta was pleased.
"Valbuena is a gamer," he said. "That kid will give you everything he's got."
A sac bunt from Lou Marson moved Valbuena over, but Brantley went down swinging for the second out. It was up to Cabrera to make something happen with two out. He fell behind in the count but found a fastball that he could loft into shallow right to score Valbuena from second.
"That at-bat by Cabrera was huge," Acta said. "He battled Putz after two strikes."
The Indians weren't done. Sizemore made life easier on Perez by following Cabrera's single with a double to right, bringing home the insurance run and giving Sizemore five RBIs in the last two games.
"He showed in Spring Training he's healthy and ready to go," Acta said of Sizemore. "This guy's going to be an All-Star for us again. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to be the player he was."
Significant doubts followed the Indians into the 2010 season. But recovering from a rough Opening Day with two hard-fought wins in the cold had them feeling pretty good as they boarded the flight to Motown.
"You don't want to be on the losing end in this weather," Perez said. "[Coming through] shows a lot about our character."