CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 23: Casey Kotchman #35 applauds hit teammate Shin-Soo Choo #17 of the Cleveland Indians after both scored on a home run hit by Choo during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Progressive Field on July 23, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
That had a chance to change tonight, as the Orioles had won the first three games of the series. The Indians had lost four straight games, and were in danger of falling 5 games behind the Tigers and 4 games behind the second Wild Card "leader" (in this case Oakland and LA). The Indians have already had half a bad week, and another half-week like it will just about end their season.
But Justin Masterson pitched well, not surprising he was facing a team not from Tampa Bay, and the while the offense didn't do much, it was enough for Masterson and the bullpen. Justin went 7.1 innings, striking out 6, walking 1, and allowing 7 hits, 5 of them singles.
Shin-Soo Choo, who has quietly bumped his OPS+ all the way to 140, hit a two-run homer in the third, and the Indians scored a run despite themselves in the eighth to give Chris Perez a bit more breathing room. They should have scored at least another run in the eighth, but Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, and Aaron Cunningham couldn't deliver with the bases loaded.
Masterson's post-ASB outings have been Jekyll-Hydian, alternating between dominant and dismal. Tonight, thankfully, he was the former, and he handed the lead off to Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, who have played a large part in keeping this team in contention despite allowing 47 more runs than it has scored. When the Indians actually have a lead going into the late innings, they don't give it up. The problem in the second half is actually having a lead in the lead innings, with the problem being at times bad starting pitching/bad middle relief or of late a listless offense.
But though the Indians don't look like a playoff right now, they are in a position where a hot streak can put them right back in contention. Thanks to 12 more games with the Tigers, they can largely control their destiny. We'll find out whether that destiny is a late summer pennant race or a repeat of last year, and quickly, as the Tigers will be in town tomorrow.