Twins stop Tribe's win streak at four

Twins stop Tribe's win streak at four

MINNEAPOLIS -- Target Field lived up to its reputation as a picturesque setting. But the Indians' first exposure to the Twins' new territory Tuesday night was anything but an artistic success.

Not only were the bats befuddled by right-hander Kevin Slowey, but an ugly third inning for Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera was enough to send the Tribe to a 5-1 loss in front of a packed house.

Two errors, a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk sum up the bottom half of that third frame, in which the Twins scored four runs off Masterson and never looked back.

"Just erratic," said manager Manny Acta. "We've been surviving on our starting pitching and our defense and timely hitting. But [Masterson] didn't throw strikes, and we didn't help ourselves catching the ball, either."

Masterson put in just four innings of work, in which he allowed five runs (two earned) on five hits with five walks and six strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches in that short span, only 55 of which went for strikes.

"I threw a lot of balls," Masterson said. "That didn't help us out. It put us in some bad counts that led to some hits."

Initially, the game's big hit came off the bat of Travis Hafner, who helped Masterson out with a solo shot to right in the second inning to tie the game at 1. With that blast, Hafner surpassed Ken Keltner for sole possession of 10th place on the Tribe's all-time home run list, with 164.

That, however, would be the last anyone heard from the Indians' offense. Because for the rest of his eight innings of work, Slowey was masterful. He allowed just the run on five hits with no walks and nine strikeouts.

"He threw strikes early in the count," Acta said. "Then he expanded and made guys swing at pitches out of the zone. That's how you pitch, and he did a very good job of it."

For Masterson, on the other hand, the outs didn't come nearly as easily. The Twins got to him quickly in the first, when he walked leadoff man Denard Span, then gave up a single to Orlando Hudson and an RBI double to Justin Morneau.

Masterson put himself in a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the second, but got Joe Mauer to ground out to end the inning. He wasn't as fortunate in the third, but that was partially on Cabrera.

With two on and one out, Masterson got what looked to be a tailor-made double-play ball out of Delmon Young. The sharp grounder headed straight in the direction of Cabrera at short. It's the kind of play the slick-fielding Cabrera makes in his sleep, but not this time. The ball scooted through his legs and into the outfield to let the Twins load the bases.

"That's the guy I want every ball hit to," Acta said of Cabrera. "It was a hard-hit ball, and he tried to be too quick. But I want every ball hit to that guy. He's very good."

Suddenly in another bind, Masterson walked J.J. Hardy on four pitches to bring home a run and make it 2-1.

"I knew I still had a real good chance to get out of [the jam]," Masterson said. "Then I threw four straight balls. That was the most disappointing thing of the night. You've got to give your guys a chance. You can't field a walk. And the next play made it even worse."

That next play was a circus act.

Masterson threw a wild pitch with Brendan Harris at the dish that allowed Michael Cuddyer to score from third. Catcher Lou Marson hurriedly tossed the ball to Masterson to try to make a play on Cuddyer at the plate, but Masterson couldn't get a grip on it. The ball scooted away, allowing Young to score all the way from second. Hardy advanced to third and went on to score on a Harris sacrifice fly.

"They made a couple mistakes and we made them pay for it," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "That was the big inning."

Indeed it was, because the Indians, now down 5-1, were never again in the game.

Fleeting hope arrived in the fifth, when Austin Kearns appeared to have hit a solo homer to left-center field. But the ball hit the top of the padded wall and did not clear it, and Kearns was only granted a double. The ground rules stipulate that the ball must either land in a flower bed that sits atop the wall or clear the bed altogether. This ball did neither, as the umpires proved with the Indians' first instant-replay review of the season.

Kearns didn't make it past second base, and the Indians never got to second base again in the ballgame. A strong effort from relievers Jamey Wright, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis was all that prevented this game from getting out of hand.

"The bullpen did a good job keeping it close," Masterson said.

The debate will continue to rage as to whether Masterson is better off as a member of that bullpen, because he's yet to reach his potential as a starter. This outing was another disappointing one for him.

"Sometimes, I was locked in," he said. "Other times, not so much."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.