The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


June 3, 2014

Justin time

Masterson gets past struggles at start and hurls Wahoos past BoSox

CLEVELAND — The Indians haven’t seen anywhere near the amount that they had hoped of “Justin Masterson the ace” this season. At first, Monday looked like another time that entity wouldn’t appear. But then their hero emerged from the phone booth, wearing his cape.

Masterson shook off a laborsome beginning to work 7 shutout innings with 3 hits -- all singles — allowed. The effort spearheaded the Tribe’s 3-2 home win over the Boston Red Sox.

The win extended Cleveland’s winning streak to 4 games, and snapped the Red Sox’s winning skein at 7.

Masterson (3-4, 4.72 ERA)  labored in the first 2 innings against his former team, throwing 49 pitches while walking 3. In the first, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs, and Masterson’s first 3 pitches to Jonny Gomes were balls. However, Gomes watched as the next 3 offerings were all in the strike zone.

“When (he wasn’t) really locating, he made a huge pitch (a fastball) to Gomes, because he was scattering balls, but he made a huge pitch when he had to,” manager Terry Francona said. “And it allowed him to kind of settle in and find himself.”

“The best thing about (the beginning) is that we still felt decently under control,” Masterson said. “We were just kind of missing some balls off. So we were like, ‘Hey, just keep going with the game plan, and things are going to work out.’ And sure enough, we were able to get that strikeout. Your confidence is at an all-time high once you get through something like that.”

Masterson was also faced with a situation with men on first and second and one out in the third. However, A.J. Pierzynski grounded into a double play of the next pitch on a ball that deflected off Masterson’s glove.

After that, the right-hander was much stingier, and much more efficient. Using only 43 pitches over his final 4 frames, he shut Boston (27-30) down on one single while facing the minimum 12 batters.

Overall, Masterson allowed 3 hits and 4 walks, and struck out a season-high 10 batters. In the fourth, he used the minimum 9 pitches to strike out the side in order — a feat that had never been achieved in team history and that has been performed only 70 times in major-league annals. That was part of a string of 25 consecutive strikes that began with the Pierzynski twin-killing.

“It took him (62) pitches to get the first (8) outs,” Francona said. “And then he got Pierzynski to hit into that double play, and he threw (25) strikes in a row.

“We talked a little bit earlier about how in the first 3 innings he kind of cruises and then he runs into a tough spot. And he kind of flipped it tonight, and boy, did he ever! He’s facing a bunch of left-handers, and he stayed down, he started changing speeds. He just attacked the strike zone.”

“I was pounding the zone really good, getting good counts for myself and I had good movement,” Masterson said. “The slider started working really well. So once we got ahead, I kind of used that slider to put a few guys away.”

Masterson had to watch as the bullpen came close to giving up the 3-0 lead. Bryan Shaw relieved him in the eighth, and after retiring the first batter, gave up a single to Brock Holt and then a two-run homer to right-center by Xander Bogaerts. Shaw did get Dustin Pedroia out, before yielding to Marc Rzepczynski, who set down the left-handed-hitting David Ortiz.

Cody Allen set down the side in order in the ninth for his fourth save.

“I think those should have been my earned runs tonight,” Francona said. “I really wanted to try to hold (the left-handed) Rzep for Ortiz. I thought about starting Rzep in the inning (against the left-handed Jackie Bradley Jr.), but they were probably going to pinch-hit. He (would have) probably (faced) one lefty — (Holt) was hitting (.421) against lefties (entering the contest) — and then probably another righty. And then maybe we go to Shaw for a couple hitters, but then we’ve got Ortiz and Pierzynski coming back around. And I really wanted Rzep to face those 2 if we got in trouble.

“I told Shaw, ‘If (you) go to arbitration, take me with you; I’ll tell them I shouldn’t have pitched you that much tonight.’”

The Indians (28-30) grabbed an early lead against John Lackey (6-4, 3.28) when Lonnie Chisenhall landed a soft liner in left field for a two-out, two-run single in the first inning.

Cleveland extended it to 3-0 in the third when Michael Bourn led off with a triple to center and scored on Asdrubal Cabrera’s single through the right side.

“(Bourn) makes us go,” Francona said. “You could see he set the tone tonight. The first pitch (after a first-inning walk), he takes off, steals a bag. He hits a triple that maybe when it was cold and he wasn’t confident (with his hamstring), it’s a double. You can see how much he’s enjoying that aspect of it. You can see how proud he was of it. He should be, when he goes like that, when we can be a different team.”

Lackey threw an 8-inning complete game in defeat, needing only 96 pitches.

“Lackey threw a great game tonight,” Francona said. “We scratched a couple early, and got another one and hung on. He’s one of the better pitchers, right now; he’s the Lackey of old.”

David Murphy had 3 hits for the Tribe.

Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.

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