The newest members of the Cleveland Indians played critical roles in the Tribe's 2-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the season-opening win at the O.co Coliseum on Monday night.
Outfielders Nyjer Morgan and David Murphy came up with two of the biggest moments in the top of the ninth inning to help the Indians finally break through against Oakland pitching, and then, despite needing 25 pitches, closer John Axford nailed down the victory with his first save as an Indian.
"The pressure was all on the pitcher," Morgan said of his sacrifice fly to FSN Ohio after the win. "I just looked for a ball up in the zone and got something I could handle. The hard work goes to the team. That was a team effort right there. We all stick together, and that's how you put up a solid win.
"The hard work doesn't stop now. This is only game one, so we've got 161 left. We've just got to keep battling and keep coming out there and showing the Tribe nation what we're all about."
Indians manager Terry Francona added, "It's nice to win every game you play. Everything seems a little bigger because it's the first game, first week, whatever. It's hard to get past that, but it is only one game, but heck yeah, we showed up this morning to win, and now, we did, so we get to show up tomorrow to see if we can do it again."
After leaving nine men on base in the first eight innings, the Indians were not to be denied in the ninth.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera got the inning started with a five-pitch walk, and then, Murphy ripped a single through the hole between first and second base that allowed Cabrera go from first to third.
After catcher Yan Gomes loaded the bases by being hit above his left elbow with a fastball from Oakland reliever Jim Johnson, Morgan lifted an RBI sacrifice fly to center field to drive in Cabrera.
Despite striking out in two of his previous three at-bats, Indians first baseman Nick Swisher smashed a single over the pitcher's mound and drove in Murphy for the Tribe's second run of the inning.
"It was a fastball down," Swisher said. "I felt like they did a really good job of pounding the strike zone with off-speed pitches all day long. Just to be able to get that fastball in the middle of the plate and be able to drive that run in, especially after that huge sac fly, that was huge. Anytime you get a two-run lead with our bullpen, you're feeling really good about our chances."
Axford came into the game and induced a fly ball out to center from Yoenis Cespedes for the first out. Despite walking two of the next three hitters, Axford bookended those free passes with strikeouts of Josh Reddick and Nick Punto, with the latter coming on a curveball in the dirt to seal the victory.
"His stuff was good," Francona said of Axford. "He threw more balls than strikes. That will change, but his stuff was good. The way he flips that breaking ball over for strikes, that really makes him tough."
But before Axford could close out Cleveland's first win of the season, Morgan had to make a key defensive play that kept Oakland off the board in the eighth inning.
With Daric Barton on first after a lead-off single and one out in the eighth, Francona inserted Cody Allen into the game, and he surrendered a walk to Oakland's Coco Crisp, and then, hung a pitch over the plate to Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson crushed the ball deep to center field, but it hit off the top of the wall and ricocheted right to Morgan, who relayed the ball back into the infield and kept Barton from scoring after he ran back to second base anticipating having to tag up on a fly ball out. That kept the game scoreless, and gave the Indians a chance to claim the lead in the ninth.
"In spring training, he was on a mission, and it was fun to see him contribute like he did," Francona said of Morgan. "He got on in the first inning with a walk, got a big sac fly and played a nice ball game. I think that's what we thought he could do."