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TOR@CLE: Santana hits pair of homers on 26th birthday

CLEVELAND -- If birthday cards start showing up inside Carlos Santana's locker on a daily basis, it will not be a surprise. Having fans serenade the Indians catcher with a birthday song prior to his plate appearances might not be a bad idea, either.

There is something about becoming a little older that does wonders for Santana's swing.

On Sunday afternoon, Santana celebrated his big day by providing Cleveland with a gift: its first victory of the 2012 season. The Indians catcher slugged a pair of home runs to power the offense, supporting a strong performance from veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe and leading the way in a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays at Progressive Field.

"Happy birthday, Carlos Santana," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "I wish it was that easy for everybody."

This hardly seems like a one-time anomaly, though.

Over the past four years, Santana has abused an ample number of baseballs on the day he blows out the candles. The catcher has hit .556 (10-for-18) with five home runs and 13 RBIs combined on his last four birthdays. That includes his first birthday in the big leagues last season, as well as a pair of celebratory showings in the Minors.

On April 8, 2009, Santana went 2-for-4 with one home run and four RBIs for Double-A Akron when he turned 23 years old. One year later, the catcher went 4-for-5 with two homers and four RBIs for Triple-A Columbus. Both of those performances coincided with his teams' Opening Day. Last season, on his 25th birthday, Santana went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs for the Indians.

Against the Blue Jays, Santana finished 2-for-4 with two home runs against right-hander Joel Carreno, who was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas following his six-inning showing. The catcher belted a solo shot to open a two-run burst in the second inning and added a two-run shot off Carreno in the fifth that pushed Cleveland to a 4-2 lead.

Asked why he has performed so well on his birthday, Santana smiled wide.

"Because I'm so excited," he beamed. "I've got one more year."

The last Indians hitter to belt a pair of home runs on his birthday was former slugger Albert Belle, who did so on Aug. 25, 1995.

Indians closer Chris Perez, who survived a ninth-inning scare to secure his first save and the victory, joked that he might hang a calendar by Santana's locker with April 8 circled for the catcher to see when he arrives to the ballpark for each game.

"You guys should tell him it's his birthday every day," Perez said.

Santana laughed at that remark.

"I'd be an old man if my birthday was every day," said the catcher.

Santana's blasts -- giving him his first multi-homer game since Sept. 13, 2011 against the Rangers -- helped back a stellar seven-inning effort from Lowe. In his Indians debut, the 38-year-old right-hander used his signature sinker to create 15 outs via ground balls and ended with two unearned runs allowed on five hits.

Lowe's outing continued a string of strong pitching performances by the Indians' rotation. Over the first three games, Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Lowe have combined for a 1.23 ERA, providing an encouraging start to the season from a pitching standpoint.

"We believed in our starting rotation all of Spring Training," said Lowe, who was acquired in a trade with the Braves over the offseason. "I think people sometimes can look at numbers in Spring Training and say, 'Hey, these guys may not be too good.' But we believe in ourselves. There's a long way to go, but it's good to finally get one."

In the fourth inning, a rare fielding miscue by third baseman Jack Hannahan paved the way for Toronto to plate two runs against Lowe. Adam Lind added an RBI single off Indians reliever Joe Smith in the eighth inning, trimming the Tribe's lead to 4-3 and setting the stage for a tense ninth-inning that included another error.

"Our defense tried to get us in trouble a little bit," Acta said.

With a runner on first base and one out in the ninth, Perez induced a grounder off the bat of pinch-hitter Ben Francisco. Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera glided up the middle and looked to be on the verge of turning a game-ending double play on his own. Instead, the ball kicked off his glove, allowing both runners to reach safely.

After Perez walked Kelly Johnson with two out, Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista settled into the batter's box with the bases full. The closer quickly fell behind in the count, 2-1, putting Bautista in a good position to deliver a knockout punch. Bautista unleashed his violent swing, but only managed a towering pop fly over the infield, where Cabrera camped under it for the game's final out.

For Perez, who blew his first save opportunity during Thursday's 16-inning Opening Day marathon, the ninth inning provided a bit of redemption.

"It's a funny game," Acta said. "You blow one up by three [runs on Opening Day] and then you can save one with the bases loaded and Jose Bautista at the plate. That's why we play this game. We love it."

Acta undoubtedly loved what he saw from Santana, who caught every one of the 37 innings the Indians played over the first three games. Offensively and defensively, Santana was a key player in the Tribe's season-opening series.

"You've got to give him credit," Acta said. "That's a lot of squatting down."

After all of that, Santana was ready to sit down and enjoy some cake.

The catcher jokingly asked one reporter why he did not bring him one.

"I can wait," Santana said with a smile. "The day's not done."

"Chocolate or vanilla," quipped the reporter.

"Both," Santana replied.

One for each home run.

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