“He’s a great example for a lot of other players of what’s possible with hard work, determination and a great mindset.” Those were the words of Indians President Chris Antonetti […]
“He’s a great example for a lot of other players of what’s possible with hard work, determination and a great mindset.”
Those were the words of Indians President Chris Antonetti when he was asked about his opening day starter Shane Bieber.
The 25-year-old couldn’t have backed them up more on Friday night at Progressive Field, making franchise history in the process. Bieber was the story in Cleveland’s 2-0 victory, as the Tribe’s new ace struck out 14, a franchise opening day record, powering the shutout with six innings of four-hit baseball.
Just how good was Bieber? Terry Francona lost count of the strikeout total.
“There were a lot of strikeouts in there. I don’t know how many he had, but there was a bunch,” the eighth-year Cleveland skipper said. “When I say he makes the glass look half full, that would be the biggest understatement. He’s really something, and he’s getting better.”
With how dominant he was, it’s hard to believe Bieber had to get out of any jams at all. In the first inning, though, the Royals had two on and veteran Alex Gordon at the dish. That’s when the reigning All Star Game MVP struck him out with a changeup, the start of his streak of 10 strikeouts out of the next 12 hitters. In the fifth inning, despite allowing two singles, Bieber still struck out the side.
“I was pumped. You could probably tell I was a little jittery, a little excited,” Bieber said of the beginning of his outing. “That first inning was a little bit shaky, but (I) ended up working through it. (I) came back out for the second, continued to progress and get better and get a little bit more comfortable.”
It was the type of performance that would have caused the nearly 40,000 at Progressive Field to rise to their feet several times had there been a crowd. The 14 strikeouts were just one away from Washington Senators pitcher Camilo Pascual’s 15 strikeouts on April 18, 1960, which is the Major League record. It was the most strikeouts in an opener since March 31, 1996, when Hall of Famer Randy Johnson delivered 14 Ks in a Mariners uniform.
On opening day in 2019, Bieber was the final man in the Tribe’s rotation. His climb to the top in just a year’s time is a meteoric rise, but one that the former college walk-on relishes.
“I love it. I think that’s a spot that I’m comfortable in,” Bieber said. “That’s a spot that I embrace. I’ve been in that role a couple of times with other teams back in college, back in high school, and then moving up the ranks with the Indians. It’s definitely something I embrace. It’s definitely something I look forward to.”
It’s something Indians fielders will continue to look forward to as well.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” center fielder Oscar Mercado said of Bieber’s start.
For the Indians, it was everything they could have hoped for from rewarding Bieber with the start.
“Retracing back to the day Shane joined the organization and even before that, just his devotion to try to take advantage of every day he has to improve himself as a player and take advantage of every resource at his disposal,” Antonetti said before the game. “He’s done that from the day he joined the organization. To see that evolution from a well-regarded draft pick, a fourth round pick, but seeing him emerge as a prospect and then, contribute to the Major League level, and now, develop into what we feel is one of the best starters in the American League is a direct testament to all the work that he’s put in.”
Even though the night belonged to him, Bieber’s humility came out postgame. He doesn’t take the role of being the lead man lightly knowing who’s behind him.
“With this staff and this rotation, we have a lot of guys that are capable of that as well,” Bieber said of the ace role. “It’s definitely an exciting thing altogether.”
Mike Clevinger is more than capable of it, as he’ll get the ball Saturday at 5:10 p.m. ET for game two of the series against the Royals.
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today