Stat of the night coming in: The Indians, a noted below-average defensive team over the past few years, had committed just four errors in their first 12 games. One of those errors, a Jhonny Peralta butchered two-out, bases loaded throw in Detroit, was the difference in a 5-2 loss 12 days ago. History would repeat itself last night at Minnesota’s Target Field. This time, the blunder came from an unlikely source.
Ask any talent evaluator who is the best Indians defensive player, and I’m guessing 95% of them will tell you Asdrubal Cabrera. The future gold glove shortstop plays the position with Omar Vizquel-like ease. Errors are going to happen, you just hope that the damage is minimized.
In the third inning, a struggling Justin Masterson gave up back to back singles to Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. This came on the heels of giving up a run on two hits and a walk in the first and loading the bases in the second (he would get out of the jam). Masterson struck out Jason Kubel for the first out and was looking for the double play ball from Delmon Young.
He got it.
Young hit a sharp, tailor made grounder right at Cabrera who let the ball go right under his glove and between his legs for a costly error that loaded the bases. An easier double-play ball, you could not have been given. AC just let it go through the five-hole. I searched high and low for a Cabrera quote, but couldn’t find one. His manager Manny Acta was right when he said “I want every ball hit to that guy. It was a hard-hit ball and he tried to be too quick.”
Masterson still had a chance to work his way out of the mess, but he couldn’t. Strangely, the Twins would get their four runs in the third – the difference in the game – without getting a hit.All of this would add up to a Twins 5-1 win.
A wild Masterson seemed clearly rattled, and walked the light-hitting J.J. Hardy to force in the second run, putting the Twins up 2-1. That’s when it got even stranger. Masterson uncorked a wild pitch way passed catched Lou Marson who tried to recover, but the flip to get Cuddyer at the plate was kicked away from the Indians starter, allowing a second runner – Young – to score. Brendan Harris would follow with a sac fly scoring Hardy.
In case you are scoring at home, that was four runs that crossed the plate via a walk, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly.
“Just erratic,” said manager Acta of his team’s performance last night. “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.”
Interestingly, had Cabrera turned that double play, we could have been headed for a pitcher’s duel. Masterson threw 96 pitches in his four innings of work (thanks to a five hits, five walks, and six K’s) but he was followed by five innings of one hit ball by Jamey Wright, Rafael Perez, and Jensen Lewis. Credit the maligned bullpen for keeping the Indians in the game.
The problem was the offense had no answer for Twins starter Kevin Slowey, who was the real story of the night. The right-hander changed speeds and was painting the outside corner against the Indians bevy of left-handed bats over eight innings. Other than a Travis Hafner second inning homer, the Wahoo attack couldn’t get anything going. Slowey scattered five hits over the eight innings, striking out nine without walking a single batter. “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.”
The 5-1 loss ended the Indians four game winning streak and spoiled the triumphant return of Russell Branyan, who made his first start of the season at first base. Russ went 1-3 in his debut. Austin Kearns was in left field and should be again tonight against the left-handed Francisco Liriano. Matt LaPorta, who was given the night off, should be at first and then make his debut in left on Thursday.
AP Photo/Jim Mone