CLEVELAND -- J.P. Arencibia has shown a flair for the dramatic during his brief career, but when it comes to the first game of the season, he seems to take it even one step further.
For the second Opening Day, Arencibia established himself as the hero in a Blue Jays' victory. In 2011, it was a two-homer performance and the year before that, he wasn't with the club at the start of the season, but did go deep twice in his first game at the big league level.
The 2012 encore took place on Thursday as Arencibia hit the go-ahead homer in the top of the 16th inning to give the Blue Jays a 7-4 win over the Indians in the longest Opening Day game in Major League Baseball history.
The 16-inning game marks the longest in Major League history on Opening Day. It surpassed two 15-inning affairs that occurred between Detroit at Cleveland in 1960 and Philadelphia at Washington in 1926.
"For the first six at-bats, [Brett] Lawrie and I were kind of joking with each other, 'Hey, the only place we can go is up.'" Arencibia said. "We were both 0-for-6, he had a couple of punchouts, I had three punchouts, I had the hat trick already. It can only go up.
"Today's actually a good day because it's my mom's birthday. It's good, Opening Day, to be able to do that and obviously on her birthday."
Arencibia's home run almost didn't happen thanks in part to a miscommunication on the field. He came to bat in the 16th with nobody out, runners on first and second, and with the count 1-1, he looked down at third base coach Brian Butterfield.
Longest Opening Day Games
|16||Blue Jays 7, Indians 4||April 5, 2012|
|15||Tigers 4, Indians 2||April 19, 1960|
|15||Senators 1, Phi. A's 0||April 13, 1926|
|14||Mets 1, Phillies 0||March 31, 1998|
|14||Rockies 11, Mets 9||April 26, 1995|
|14||Reds 2, Dodgers 1||April 7, 1975|
|14||Pirates 6, Cardinals 2||April 8, 1969|
|14||White Sox 3, Angels 2||April 12, 1966|
|14||White Sox 9, Tigers 7||April 10, 1959|
|14||Pirates 4, Mil. Braves 3||April 15, 1958|
|14||Indians 2, Browns 1||April 16, 1934|
|14||NY Giants 1, Bk. Dodgers 1||April 16, 1933|
|14||Phillies 5, Bk. Robins 5||April 17, 1923|
The 26-year-old catcher thought he had been given the bunt sign, but asked for the signals again just to make sure. Arencibia once again believed he had been given the bunt sign so he attempted to make contact on a sacrifice.
Luckily for Arencibia and the Blue Jays, he missed the bunt which allowed him to send a 1-2 offering over the wall in left field to secure Toronto's sixth Opening Day win in the past eight years. It wasn't until Arencibia rounded the bases and went into the dugout that he realized the bunt had never been asked for in the first place.
"He didn't give the bunt, and I asked for the sign again, and again he didn't give me the bunt and I still bunted," said Arencibia, who misinterpreted the sign. "I was still wrong the second time and then, after that, two strikes, and I was like, 'Just bear down. Try to put the ball in play.'
"I was just trying to do something to help the team get a guy to third base. He hung a breaking ball and I hit it pretty good."
Arencibia's contributions during the game weren't limited to just his performance in the batter's box. He also went through what was likely his toughest game behind the plate in a Blue Jays uniform and passed every test with flying colors.
If it wasn't enough to last 16 innings in catcher's gear, Arencibia further cemented his strong game by blocking multiple pitches in the dirt, tagging out Shin-Soo Choo on what would have been a wild pitch in the third and throwing out Choo at second base in the sixth on a stolen-base attempt. It was an all-around strong performance that didn't go unnoticed by Toronto manager John Farrell.
"He's made such strides from a year ago," Farrell said of Arencibia's defense. "It's remarkable how far he's come from this time a year ago. He throws out Choo from his knees, he blocked numerous two-strike pitches in the dirt. I know it's Day 1, [but] this is a game that makes you awful proud with the way guys continued to battle and grind things out for 16 innings."
Arencibia will get most of the attention after Thursday's victory, but a major assist also goes to the bullpen. Toronto's relievers were called into action after No. 1 starter Ricky Romero surrendered four runs in five innings.
All seven of Toronto's relievers came in and proceeded to allow just four hits in 11 scoreless innings. The win went to left-hander Luis Perez, who didn't allow a hit in four strong frames to earn his fourth career win.
Perez also caused a mini dustup in the 15th inning after throwing a pitch up and in to Choo. Cleveland's outfielder had to duck out of the way and then took several steps toward the mound as the dugouts cleared. Order was quickly restored, and while Perez went on to issue a walk, he escaped the inning with the game still tied.
"I had been a hit by pitch last year -- a broken thumb," Choo said. "Maybe that's the reason why. I'm very sensitive right now, but it's part of the game. Pitchers need to throw inside. I understand that."
The battle of endurance almost didn't take place as Toronto entered the ninth trailing, 4-1, and its chances of a comeback looking slim with Chris Perez on the mound. Cleveland's closer converted 36 of 40 save opportunities last season, but his 2012 campaign didn't start off on the same note.
Perez struggled with his control and surrendered back-to-back singles to Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson to open the ninth. Jose Bautista, who homered in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, cut the lead to two with a sacrifice fly, and after a walk to Adam Lind, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion that delivered the biggest blow.
Encarnacion sent a 3-1 offering deep to left field and while it appeared to be heading for the seats, it instead bounced high off the wall for a double. Two runners scored to tie the game at 4 and Perez was eventually chased.
"It's just the character of this team," Arencibia said of his club's never-say-die attitude. "The guys we have in this clubhouse, the coaching staff, from top to bottom I think there's a lot of [positivity] and never-give-up, as you could tell today.
"We stuck it out. We grinded it out. You've got to tip your hat to our bullpen, who went out there and gave us all those scoreless innings. They were unbelievable today."