TORONTO -- Indians reliever John Axford felt relaxed again on the mound during his appearance in the seventh inning against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. Perhaps it was the fact that the Canadian was pitching in his home country for the first time as a visitor.
"Maybe that's it, too," Axford said with a smirk. "Tim Horton's, good Canadian maple syrup, poutine. All that's making me feel perfect."
Kidding aside, Axford felt Tuesday's appearance was a step in the right direction for him.
In his first outing since being temporarily removed from his role as Cleveland's closer, Axford needed only 10 pitches to set Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista down in order. Reyes and Cabrera each grounded out, and Axford finished the frame off with a three-pitch strikeout against Bautista, who stared at each offering.
Axford -- born in Simcoe, Ontario, and a resident of Port Dover, Ontario -- had a host of family and friends in attendance on Tuesday, and will continue to have familiar faces in the crowd throughout this series.
On Saturday, Axford was informed that he was not going to work as the Tribe's closer for the time being. The right-hander has nine saves in 11 chances this season, but he allowed five runs, issued two walks, surrendered two home runs and labored through 102 pitches in his four outings (three innings) prior to Tuesday's appearance.
Needless to say, Axford was pleased with the results against Toronto.
"Certainly," said Axford, who has a 4.60 ERA with 16 strikeouts against 13 walks in 15 2/3 innings this season. "I got ahead of guys. I didn't throw 30 pitches in an inning. I had a one-two-three inning. It's definitely a step in the right direction. I felt relaxed, if I could sum it up in one word."
Francona thrilled with friend Farrell's ASG invite
TORONTO -- Indians manager Terry Francona does not need to worry about picking players for the American League's All-Star roster, and he does not have to worry about making in-game decisions during the game, either. This year, Francona will just get to soak everything in.
Red Sox manager John Farrell -- a close friend of Francona's -- revealed on Tuesday that Cleveland's manager -- along with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire -- will be a part of his AL coaching staff for the All-Star Game in July at Target Field.
"When John asked me at the Winter Meetings, it completely caught me off guard." Francona said prior to Wednesday's game in Toronto. "I was honored as heck. First of all, it's John, and it's the All-Star Game. I was really honored. It'll be really fun, because it'll be the first time where I don't have the obligation of being in charge."
Francona, who won the World Series as manager of the Red Sox in 2004 and '07, managed the American League All-Star team in the '05 and '08 seasons.
"I honestly don't remember the two All-Star Games I've been a part of," Francona said. "I don't remember a lot of them, because it all happens so fast and you're trying to navigate getting guys in. The one in New York had a chance to be a fiasco.
"So, to be there and just to take it in will be really fun. But, to be there with John is really meaningful for me."
The friendship between Francona and Farrell dates back to their days as teammates with the Indians in 1988. Farrell also served as a pitching coach on Francona's coaching staff in Boston for a few seasons.
Francona recalled the time he asked former Tigers manager Jim Leyland to be a part of the AL coaching staff for the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium. Farrell was Francona's pitching coach for that Midsummer Classic, too.
"I remember calling [Leyland] from the parking lot in Fort Myers [Florida]," Francona said. "I was stunned. He called me back and was like, '[Heck] yes, I'll do it.' Then, it dawned on me why he's so good. Then, to get to spend two days with him, those are some of my best memories of that All-Star Game. Me, John and him sitting in the office just talking and laughing."
Brantley goes way back with Toronto manager Gibbons
TORONTO -- Michael Brantley always enjoys the chance to catch up with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. When Brantley was just a boy, Gibbons gave him a taste of what it was like to be a professional ballplayer.
Brantley's dad, Mickey, was the hitting coach for Gibbons in 1996, when the Toronto skipper was the manager of the Class A St. Lucie Mets. Michael, who was around nine years old at the time, was allowed to take the field with the team during workouts in the summer.
"Gibby's the man," Brantley said. "He was great for me. As a kid, he allowed me to come on the field and work out with the team. It was almost like I was a player. I'd go hit in the cages and just be one of the guys. He allowed me to do that. He was the manager, so it's his team. For him to allow me to be a part of that environment, it meant a lot to me and my development."
Gibbons, who also had Mickey Brantley (a member of the Mariners during his playing career) on his coaching staff with the Blue Jays for parts of the 2005-07 seasons, smiled when asked about Cleveland's left fielder.
"He's just such a fluid, natural athlete," Gibbons said. "His dad was a really good hitter, so you know he's getting some good teaching. He's a first-class kid. Very professional. It really doesn't surprise me some of the things he's done."
Entering Wednesday's game, the 26-year-old Brantley was batting .278 with a team-leading seven home runs and 30 RBIs through 38 games. Brantley also had eight doubles, 13 walks and 20 runs scored for Cleveland, which signed him to a four-year extension worth $25 million in February.
"You know what he does? He does it when it matters -- at least against us he does," Gibbons said with a chuckle. "When you need something good done, he's usually right in the middle of it. And lefties, righties, it doesn't matter. He's not known as a power hitter, but he can bring you deep, too, man."
Brantley said he will always be appreciative of Gibbons.
"When a person kind of opens a door for you and allows you to be part of his locker room as a manager, I think that's special, especially as a young kid," Brantley said. "I was coming up trying to be a baseball player and wanting to be a baseball player, having a dream, and having that opportunity through my father and, obviously Gibby allowing me being out there with the guys, that meant a lot."
Quote to note
"That was that game that went 15 innings. I was getting a little panicky. I was looking at the lineup card one inning and [former manager Jim Leyland] just wandered over and he said, 'You can look at that lineup card all you want, you ain't going to find a pitcher.'"
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on the 2008 All-Star Game
• Francona has seen replays of the play at the plate in the eighth inning on Tuesday, when Carlos Santana was tagged out by catcher Josh Thole. Francona said Wednesday that he still feels Thole's positioning was fine, considering the relay throw from left fielder Melky Cabrera forced the catcher into Santana's path.
"The throw kind of took him across the plate," Francona said. "I don't know what else he could've done. I wish I could say, 'I wish we could've challenged something,' but I thought [Thole] did a good job. ... I thought the bat [on the ground] messed up Carlos. He didn't know where to go because the bat was laying there."
Francona noted that he did consider pulling Santana in favor of a pinch-hitter, but quickly decided against it. Lefty Brett Cecil was on the mound for Toronto and lefty-swinging Lonnie Chisenhall was on deck, so Francona prioritized keeping his options open for a pinch-hit scenario.
• Designated hitter Jason Giambi, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right calf, will be eligible for activation on Monday. Cleveland is still weighing its options for the 43-year-old Giambi, who went 0-for-10 in four games prior to being sidelined.
"He's doing good," Francona said. "We've got to figure out our roster, obviously. The one thing we'll always want to do is be respectful of 'G,' because he deserves that, and make it work on our roster. Sometimes that's harder than it has been in the past. That's not his fault."
• Prior to Tuesday's game, when the Indians faced Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Francona said he had "pretty good numbers" in his career against knucklers. During his playing days, Francona hit a combined .375 (12-for-32) against Tom Candiotti, Terry Clark, Charlie Hough, Joe Niekro and Phil Niekro.