Justin Masterson is a nice guy. By all accounts he is a great teammate and rarely in a bad mood. But you know what I want to see from him? More nastiness. More intensity. More domination. But here is the thing: I expect too much out of Masterson. Justin is what he is—a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter. At his best, he is a No. 2. And therein lies the problem. I want him to be something that he isn’t.
As we have seen with Masterson many times before, the second time through the order, the opposition gets to him. On Tuesday night, Masterson was nearly untouchable through four innings, but it was the sixth where the wheels came off the wagon. After Juan Francisco’s solo homer gave Toronto a 2-1 lead in the fifth, the Jays stepped on Masterson’s throat. Melky Cabrera led off with a walk and advanced to second on Jose Bautista’s infield single. Left-handed hitters have given Masterson all sorts of trouble this year. Another one of those lefties was up next and touched him up. Adam Lind’s double scored both Cabrera and Bautista, stretching the Toronto lead to 4-1. Justin came back to strike out Edwin Encarnacion, but the left-handed hitting Francisco got him again with an RBI double to the corner in right. The walk to Brett Lawrie was all for Masterson as he departed after five-and-a-third.
“I just didn’t mix it up as well,” said Masterson. “That was the biggest thing. We still had some balls down for the most part, but it was just a lot of sinkers. They made a good adjustment to stay with the ball. I just didn’t combat the adjustment by mixing it up.”
With the way the Tribe’s offense has been most of the year, a 5-1 lead seemed insurmountable. But if we have learned anything with Francona’s Tribe teams it is that they always continue to battle. The Blue Jays bullpen has been a horror show all season, but it was actually starter R.A. Dickey who the Indians finally began to solve. The knuckleballer entered the seventh inning on cruise control. But the Wahoos went to work.
Asdrubal Cabrera led off the seventh with a single which was followed by a David Murphy infield single. Former Blue Jay Yan Gomes worked a walk to load the bases with nobody out and the Tribe was in business. Dickey hit Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch to force in a run and Jays skipper John Gibbons had seen enough. On came left-hander Aaron Loup with the bases still loaded and nobody out. He erased Mike Aviles on a short fly ball to right, but Michael Bourn delivered a single to right, scoring Murphy. Nick Swisher’s sac fly inched the Wahoos closer at 5-4. Michael Brantley was next and he lined one right up the middle for what everyone thought was a game-tying single off the bat, but shortstop Jose Reyes was shading Brantley that way and snared it for the third out. Dr. Smooth slammed his helmet down in disgust.
We had a John Axford sighting in the bottom of the seventh. His first appearances since losing his closer’s role played to rave reviews. The righthander came through with a 1-2-3 inning, setting the stage for a potential Tribe comeback.
Lefty Brett Cecil replaced Loup and gave up a leadoff single to the struggling Carlos Santana. ‘Los moved to second on a passed ball. Asdrubal failed to move Santana up a bag, striking out swinging at a pitch in the dirt. David Murphy also struck out. It was up to Gomes. The Yanimal lined a sharp single to left and third base coach waved Santana in all the way. Melky Cabrera has a cannon for an arm and came up firing. He threw a strike to catcher Josh Thole, who applied the tag to a sliding Santana for the third out.
“It was a great throw,” Santana said. “I don’t know if he tried to block the plate. I tried to be safe. It was a great moment, a great situation. I tried. Melky made a great throw and the bat was in the middle.”
Francona could have come out to challenge the play, but replays showed Carlos was indeed out. It was their last, best chance.
“I thought the ball was going to hit Carlos,” said Francona. “I think Carlos was more having to dodge the bat than anything. I think the throw took Thole toward it there.”
A two-out single by Bourn in the ninth was all the Indians would muster off of Jays closer Casey Janssen, as they fell in the series opener 5-4. The Indians attempt to square the series on Wednesday by sending Corey Kluber (3-3, 3.48 ERA) to the mound. He will match up with right-hander Dustin McGowan (2-1, 4.63 ERA)
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)