CLEVELAND: Even though it’s early, there was a feeling that the Indians needed to be saved from themselves by an elite pitching performance Wednesday night.
It didn’t happen, and the Tribe lost 6-3 to the Boston Red Sox.
Coming into the game, the Tribe was 2-4 with two rainouts on the first homestand of the season with Justin Masterson charged with continuing his string of excellent starts.
It wasn’t fair to expect Masterson (3-1, 1.67 ERA) to maintain a 0.41 ERA for four consecutive starts, and he proved it in the first inning, giving up three runs on four hits and a hit batter.
“They made him work really hard,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Their approach was very good. They tried to stay in the middle of the field and go the other way.”
None of the hits were struck with authority but they counted nonetheless, especially Mike Napoli’s two-run single, which preceded a single by Daniel Nava that drove in the third run.
“I made some good pitches, but they were able to put balls where our guys weren’t,” is the way Masterson described it.
Masterson never could quite get it together, but he got lots of practice pitching himself out of serious trouble.
Not until the sixth batter of the first inning, Will Middlebrooks, did Masterson retire a batter, but he stopped the bleeding without giving up another run.
In the second, the first three Red Sox batters hit safely to load the bases, but Masterson extricated himself from trouble without allowing another run. In the fourth, Masterson got one batter out before he loaded bases, and again the Sox did not score.
“Masterson had to pitch out of a lot of traffic,” Francona said. “He had to bob and weave. It was a hard five innings, but we had a chance to win.”
With two outs in the fifth, Masterson walked Stephen Drew and gave up a triple to “Babe” Carp, make that Mike Carp, to stretch the Tribe deficit to 4-0. Carp, the ninth batter in the lineup, doubled his first two trips to the plate, before ripping the three-base hit to deep left.
“I wasn’t surprised to see [left-handed] Carp in the lineup,” Francona said. “He goes out and gets Masterson pretty good.”
Masterson didn’t choose to be caught up in so much turmoil in four of the five innings he was on the mound.
“I would rather strike everybody out,” he said. “But I got in trouble and had to try to work my way out. At least I didn’t get in trouble walking guys. I pounded the zone. When you have 30-some starts a year, you’re going to have some like this.”
Masterson’s line looked very un-Mastersonly, in light of his first three starts: 11 hits, four runs, one walk and five strikeouts in five innings, using 101 pitches.
Until encountering the Red Sox, Masterson had given up just one run and struck out 20 in 22 innings, which is how a pitcher finds himself with an 0.41 ERA and 3-0 record. Masterson came into the game riding a 19-inning scoreless streak.
“I can’t be too upset, because I made some decent pitches,” Masterson said. “But they’re professional hitters. At the end of it, unfortunately, they got too many [runs] too early.”
Corey Kluber relieved Masterson and gave up a run in the sixth.
Alfredo Aceves (1-0, 6.28 ERA) held the Tribe to two hits and a walk through four innings, but weakened in a big way in the fifth. After Carlos Santana walked to lead off the inning, Nick Swisher slammed his second home run of the season over the wall in right, and Jason Giambi followed with his first homer of the season to right, trimming the lead to 5-3.
“Some of those pitches he’s popped up — he’s been right on them,” Francona said. “But it’s nice to see results.”
The Sox scored an unearned run in the eighth but didn’t need it, because the Tribe attack abruptly went back into its shell when the Red Sox bullpen took over following the two home runs and Mark Reynolds’ double in the sixth.
Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Andrew Bailey delivered four innings of hitless relief, walking none and striking out eight of the 12 batters they faced.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ. and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.