I sound like a broken record and we are only two weeks plus into the season, but the Tribe’s starting pitching is obviously a big concern. The thought was that with their best on the mound, Justin Masterson, the bleeding could be stopped. Actually the Indians starters pitched well in the Chicago series over the weekend, but what’s most fresh in our minds was Tuesday night’s comedy show starring Ubaldo Jimenez. The over-taxed Indians bullpen figured to get some relief with the Tribe’s ace on the mound. Just in case, Corey Kluber was called up as a long man, taking the place of CF Michael Bourn who was placed on the 15-day DL earlier in the day.
Masterson entered the game with a 19-inning scoreless streak in tow. The Red Sox came to the plate in the first inning with the perfect approach. They were patient with Masterson and took almost everything the other way right from the jump. Four of the first five Red Sox singled the other way. The one who didn’t, Shane Victorino, was hit by a pitch. It was 3-0 before you could open your bag of peanuts. Justin managed to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the Red Sox knew they were on to something.
In the second, the Sox once again loaded the bases with nobody out on a Mike Carp double, a Jacoby Ellsbury infield single, and a Shane Victorino single. Somehow, Masterson dug deep to get out of the jam without giving up a run. He struck out Dustin Pedroia, got Mike Napoli to pop out to first, and Daniel Nava on a fly out to left. But again, the damage was being done and The Big Nasty wasn’t long for this game.
After a 1-2-3 third, the Sox loaded the sacks for a third time in four innings on a another Carp double and singles from Ellsbury and Victorino. Again, Masterson dug deep and kept the Sox scoreless by striking out Napoli and getting Nava on a ground out. The fifth inning would be his last one way or another with his pitch count up near the century mark. Justin retired the first two with relative ease, but made the mistake of walking the light-hitting eighth place hitter Stephen Drew. Carp, who had already gotten Masterson for two doubles in his first two at-bats, tripled off the wall in center scoring Drew. Masterson’s night ended with a K of Ellsbury.
“I made some good pitches, but early on, they were able to put some balls where guys weren’t,” Masterson said. “We battled through five. I really didn’t want to give up that last run.”
I will give him this, he fought through five innings, but the Sox had his number with their approach. He threw 101 pitches, allowed five runs on 11 hits, walking just one and striking out five.
“They made him work really hard,” manager Terry Francona said. “Their approach to him was very good. They all stayed in the middle of the field or went the opposite way. … There’s a lot of trust in him. That’s what I told him when I took him out. He didn’t give in and it was a hard five innings, but when he left, we had a chance to win the game.”
The problem was the deficit. The offense, save for Saturday’s nine run explosion, hasn’t been able to string much together since the opening week, and is now without Bourn and Jason Kipnis, who hasn’t played since Saturday with a sore elbow. Take away that 9-4 win, and they’ve scored five runs in four games heading into Wednesday.
Through the first five innings, nothing had changed. The Wahoo attack was being shut out by Alfredo Aceves, who makes Rafael Betancourt seem like a quick worker. Their best chance came in the sixth when the Indians loaded the bases with two outs on a Lonnie Chisenhall single, a Drew Stubbs double, and a Michael Brantley walk. Up stepped Asdrubal Cabrera, who has been colder than Minneapolis in January. It seemed like the perfect time for Asdrubal to break out. He smoked a 1-2 Aceves pitch to right, but Victorino ran it down for the third out. Cabrera slammed his helmet down in disgust.
“I knew I hit it good. I felt I hit it really good,” Cabrera said, “but they’ve got a good outfield out there, too. Fast.”
The Red Sox got a fifth run in the top of the sixth off of Kluber who gave up three hits in his one inning of work. In the bottom of the frame, the Tribe flexed their muscles.
With Carlos Santana on first after a leadoff walk, Nick Swisher crushed his second homer of the young season to the Indians bullpen in center. Jason Giambi, making just his second start as the Tribe’s DH, tattooed an Aceves pitch deep to right-center for his first homer as an Indian. The back to back jacks put some life into the Progressive Field crowd. Aceves was teetering, yet Sox manager John Farrell left him in. Mark Reynolds laced a double down the left field line to bring the trying run to the plate. Farrell had finally seen enough and called for right-hander Junichi Tazawa. Cord Phelps failed to do his job of moving Reynolds to third with a ground out to the left side. Chisenhall followed with a deep fly ball to the wall in center, which would have easily driven in Reynolds. Instead, he would be stranded at third as Tazawa K’d Stubbs to end the inning.
The Reynolds double was the last hit the Indians would get on the night.
At least it became a ball game again, but the Tribe still trailed. The Sox would answer in the eighth. Rich Hill was masterful in the seventh and stayed on to face the left-handed Ellsbury in the eighth. With two strikes, Ellsbury threw his bat at a ball off the plate and blooped it to shallow center. Cabrera charged out to make the play but the ball popped out of his glove for a fluke single. Hill was replaced by Joe Smith, who hadn’t pitched in four days. Ellsbury moved to second on a Smith wild pitch. Victorino then layed down a bunt to the third base, which Smith fielded. His throw to first was up the line and Phelps dropped it. Smith was charged with the error and Ellsbury came around to score an insurance run.
The Tribe went quietly against Koji Uehara and Andrew Bailey in their last at-bats. Sox relievers retired the final 12 batters they with eight strikeouts.
It is up to Zach McAllister (1-1, 2.19 ERA) to help the Tribe avoid a sweep at the hands of Boston, who have won five straight and are 10-4. The offense will try to get it going against lefty Jon Lester (2-10, 1.42 ERA) who is off to a great start.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)