Justin Masterson has had some mixed results this season in “big” games. Still, the All-Star righty came up big in a Saturday night showdown with fellow All-Star Yu Darvish. Masterson went 7 2/3 innings, scattering five hits and one walk and one hitter batter while striking out eight as Michael Bourn’s leadoff homer held up for a 1-0 Tribe victory. The games in the last two nights truly could not have been more different.
Bourn’s first inning homer was on what he described as a “get me over” fastball that he put a quick head of the bat on, sending a liner out and just over the wall in the right field corner. Bourn’s hit two homers this week, and he is really driving the team at the top of the lineup.
Masterson was part of his 6th shutout of the season. In three of them, he’s gone the distance, going seven innings in the other two prior to tonight. The Indians have shutout opponents in 13 of their 103 games, and Masterson has played a critical role in nearly half of them. His biggest jam occurred in the fifth inning when he allowed a single to backup catcher Geovany Soto, hit Ian Kinsler, and surrendered a single to Engel Beltre to load the bases with two out. Luckily, Soto is a slow baserunner, so Stubbs gathering the ball quickly and getting it in held Soto at third on the Beltre single. Masterson then locked it up and retired Cruz on a grounder force out to Cabrera at short to end the threat. Other than that, Masterson did not allow more than a single baserunner in any of the eight innings he pitched in last night.
Darvish was equally dominant, but the Indians did a good job of driving up his pitch count. Darvish was a strikeout machine, but that alone cemented that he wouldn’t be able to go the distance. Add in his four walks and Darvish needed a whopping 123 pitches to get through six innings of work. Kipnis, Giambi, Santana, and Stubbs all struck out a pair of times in this game, while Nick Swisher struck out three times. Darvish retired 11 in all via the strikeout (seven swinging), and they all came in the first five innings. Darvish comes as good as advertised, and it took a mammoth effort from Masterson to best him.
As Masterson’s pitch count climbed, he needed a quick sixth and seventh inning to give him a shot at the eighth inning. He did just that. Sitting at 80 pitches after five, Masterson retired the Rangers 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh innings on just 25 pitches combined. With Joe Smith, fresh off his demolition job last night warming, Masterson retired the first two hitters quickly in the eighth. After a single to Nelson Cruz, however, Tito pulled the plug at 113 pitches for Masterson, going to Smith. Adrian Beltre came to the plate to face Smith and crushed one to deep left that looked like it was gone or at least off the wall on the crack of the bat. Michael Brantley, though, ran it down on the warning track to retire the side. Masterson had both the sinker and slider working, which has been the difference when he’s on versus when he’s off.
Chris Perez continued his recent string of downright dominance in the ninth, making quick work of the Rangers. Perez now has pitched three crucial innings in this series, earning the save in this one. The bullpen may be in shambles, but Perez is making it an eighth inning and earlier problem only right about now. He’s come a long way from earlier in the season, and if the absolute bite on that called third strike to Elvis Andrus is any indication, his stuff is near unhittable right now. I’ve been hard on Perez, and it’s probably not the last time I will be, but he’s really stepping up right now when the team needs him in the worst way.
The Indians go for the sweep this afternoon with Ubaldo Jimenez taking on Alexi Ogando at 1:05. A win today would make a good series a great series and give them momentum heading into the next series as they chase the Tigers in the division and the Orioles in the wild card.
(Photo: Thomas Ondrey/ The Plain Dealer)