Masterson sidesteps trouble to deny Yankees

Masterson sidesteps trouble to deny Yankees

Masterson sidesteps trouble to deny Yankees
CLEVELAND -- The Indians entered this season with the firm belief that Justin Masterson could be a stopper, capable of halting losing streaks. Cleveland just did not envision he would need to stop these kinds of losing streaks.

On Saturday night, pitching in front of a largely pro-Yankees audience that let its presence be felt with loud chants all evening, Masterson gave the Indians a solid performance en route to a 3-1 victory over New York at Progressive Field. In the process, Masterson helped end Cleveland's nine-game slide.

"Outstanding job by Masterson," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He continues to be the guy, our go-to guy whenever we're going through tough times, to get us out of it."

It was Masterson who also ended the Tribe's brutal 11-game losing streak with a solid effort on Aug. 8. Cleveland suffered two droughts of at least nine games in the same season for the first time in the franchise's long history, but the sinkerballer saw to it that -- at least for one day -- the latest slump came to an end.

Masterson cracked a smile when asked why he seems to step up in such situations.

"Not all the time," Masterson replied.

Fair enough.

After all, Masterson was on the losing end of games No. 2 and No. 7 in the 11-game slide, and he dropped the fifth game of the more recent nine-game slump. That is the past, though. Right now, Cleveland would rather focus on the fact that it finally found the win column again.

That has been a rare feat of late for the struggling Tribe.

"It's been a long month," said Indians closer Chris Perez, who picked up his 33rd save with a clean ninth. "I've never been through something like this. I was here in 2010 when we were pretty brutal, but we were brutal all year. [You] go from competing, and all of a sudden two weeks later, it's just a freefall. You really can't put your finger on it.

"It's the same guys, same mindset. It's just the results weren't there. It's tough, but we've still got a little more than 30 games left. It could get a lot worse, but we've been pitching good the last three or four or five games, and that's where it starts -- our starting rotation."

Cleveland's offense went quiet after a three-run outburst in the first inning, forcing Masterson to make the most of the few runs scored in that early push. The big righty was up to the task, cruising through the first 11 New York batters he faced without yielding a hit and carrying a gem into the seventh inning.

"He's always had great stuff," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "The thing with him is you just have to hit mistakes. He didn't make many today. That was our problem."

The Yankees did scratch out a run in the sixth, when Masterson gave up two hits and issued a walk to load the bases with no outs. Teixeira delivered a run-scoring sacrifice fly to cut the Tribe's lead to 3-1, but Masterson sidestepped further harm in the frame.

Masterson did so while a significant portion of the crowd loudly chanted "Let's-go-Yankees!" While New York's traveling party upped the decibels, the pitcher forced flyouts from Eric Chavez and Russell Martin to escape a second bases-loaded jam in the sixth.

"They got one, and the goal is to minimize the damage," Masterson said. "We were able to do that, however pretty or not pretty it was. We got through it and made it work."

The Indians (55-71) -- with just five wins in their past 27 games -- struck quickly against Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who hit Jason Kipnis with a pitch to open the first inning. Kuroda then issued a one-out walk, setting the stage for Cleveland's rally.

Michael Brantley made Kuroda pay by drilling the first pitch he received into the right-field seats for a three-run home run, the sixth blast of the season for the center fielder. It was the first long ball for the Indians to drive in more than two runs since July 4. It was also as many runs as Cleveland scored in the previous three games combined.

"Huge hit, that three-run homer with two outs," Acta said. "After that, Kuroda just got on a terrific groove and we couldn't do much against him. But power pitching and a three-run homer, they always get it done. It feels good."

It was the only damage managed against Kuroda, who turned in a complete game for the Yankees (73-53).

New York threatened again in the seventh, when Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher connected for back-to-back two-out singles off Masterson. At that critical turn, Acta handed the ball to setup man Vinnie Pestano, who promptly walked Robinson Cano to load the bases again for the Bronx Bombers.

Pestano recovered nicely, inducing an inning-ending flyout off the bat of Teixeira.

That put the finishing touch on Masterson's line, which included the lone run surrendered on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander struck out six and walked two, picking up a third win among his last four starts.

"He's our guy," Acta said. "Our No. 1 guy coming into the season, and he's got the stuff to do this more times than not. He's human, but we feel that every five days, he can go out and do this."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.