But a good defensive play -- combined with poor baserunning by the Orioles -- helped the Indians escape potential danger and hold on for a much-needed 3-1 victory Monday night at Progressive Field. The win snapped Cleveland's four-game losing streak, and it put the Indians four games behind Detroit for first place in the American League Central heading into a three-game showdown with the surging Tigers, which begins Tuesday.
"It was huge," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "After you lose three in a row, then after that every game is huge, because you want to cut it off."
The game was still very much in question in the eighth. With one out and the Indians leading, 2-1, Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis ripped a single off Indians starter Justin Masterson, forcing Acta to go to his bullpen.
With Markakis at first base, Chavez doubled off Pestano, and Indians left fielder Aaron Cunningham appeared to have a little bit of trouble picking it up. Markakis took a huge turn around third and was caught in no-man's land, eventually being tagged out by third baseman Jack Hannahan. Orioles third-base coach DeMarlo Hale initially waved Markakis home, but then put his hands up late in an attempt to stop the runner.
"I should have kept going, regardless," Markakis said. "I should have made them make two good throws to get me out, but I froze. It's tough, especially when you could have second and third with your 3-4-5 hitters coming up. It's 99.9 percent my fault."
Pestano got out of the treacherous situation by striking out Jim Thome on a slider to end the inning. Closer Chris Perez locked it down with a 1-2-3 ninth.
"I got extremely fortunate," Pestano said. "Sometimes you'd just rather be lucky than good."
The heads-up play made a winner out of Masterson, who was dominant for much of the night. The ace allowed only one run on seven hits over 7 1/3 strong innings, while striking out six and walking one. Masterson controlled the strike zone and had a good sinker, which helped him induce three inning-ending double plays.
Masterson only faced adversity in the fifth, when he hit a batter and gave up an RBI double to recently acquired Omar Quintanilla with two outs, but he cruised through the rest of his outing. He needed only 92 pitches to get deep into the game.
"Masterson did a tremendous job," Acta said. "He did what we expect our No. 1 guy to do, to go out there and shut down the opposition. ... When he's good, sinking it down, it doesn't matter who you put out there. That was the case today."
The Indians' offense still couldn't muster much -- it has scored only nine runs in the last five games -- but Masterson actually had a cushion to work with on Monday.
Right-fielder Shin-Soo Choo provided it with a two-run blast to right-center field in the third inning off Baltimore starter Tommy Hunter.
The 2-0 lead may not have seemed like much, but it was plenty for Masterson. He knew the bats had been quiet in recent days, and he was prepared to pick up his struggling teammates.
"Whenever guys are kind of going down," Masterson said, "hopefully you keep a team to nothing. You have to ease a little bit of the pressure off the offense. Say, 'Hey, just give me two, boys, and we'll try to get it done.'"
The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth on an RBI single by center fielder Michael Brantley, but they could have done more damage against the O's bullpen. Cleveland opened the frame with four consecutive singles, but left the bases loaded.
"That's been the theme," Acta said.
But on this night, the wasted opportunities didn't come back to bite. Masterson played the role of stopper, and helped the Indians win a game they so desperately needed. Now, it's on to the Tigers.
"That's the last thing you want to do -- start a series with [Detroit] on a five-game losing streak," Acta said.