April 12, 2013
Chapter 9: A clean sheet for Mr. Clean
Since Justin Masterson last started, the Tribe pitching had been abysmal; in two games against the Yankees, the Indians allowed 25 runs and 31, including 8 home runs. Two days' worth of rain got the Yankees out of town without any more damage being done, and those extra two days meant that Masterson would take the ball for the Indians' next game.
Justin Masterson had his moments last season, but mechanical glitches kept popping up so that he rarely would put two good games together. Sometimes he'd put 3-4 good innings together, only to fall apart in inning five. But this season, he's been almost uniformly great; aside from minor struggles early against Toronto and Tampa Bay, he's been a dominant pitcher on an otherwise dominated pitching staff.
After tonight's game, Nick Swisher called Masterson "Mr. Clean," most likely because of his close likeness to the cleaning product mascot, but tonight that name also could have referred to his pitching. For Masterson pitched complete game shutout, allowing just five hits and a walk in his nine innings. In what has been a departure for Masterson, he's also been very efficient with his pitches; last night he retired 27 batters on 113 pitches, and threw 81 of those 113 pitches for strikes.
The weather was brutally cold last night; by the time the game ended, the thermometer fell into the 30s, a more appropriate temperature for November Browns game than an April Indians game. The chilliness probably helped the pitchers, especially Masterson, for hitters did not want to get jammed. White Sox starter Jose Quintana, who has mesmerized the Indians thus far in his young career, continued to do so; he went seven dominant innings himself, allowing only a Michael Brantley double and a Nick Swisher hit by pitch. Masterson had several more jams to deal with; Chicago got the go-ahead run into scoring position in the seventh and eighth inning, but in both cases Masterson recorded the third out via strikeout.
The Indians offense, which had been shut down by Andy Pettitte on Wednesday, had only one scoring opportunity before the ninth inning (Brantley's second inning double). But after Masterson finished off the White Sox in the top of the ninth, the Indians would need to score in the bottom of the inning to made Justin a complete game shutout winner. And they did just that. Michael Bourn hit what sounded like a broken bat double down the left field line, Asdrubal Cabrera moved him to third base with a groundout to second, and after Jason Kipnis walked with two outs, Nick Swisher walked the Indians off with a base hit down the right field line.
With that thrilling victory, the Indians' record now stands at 4-5. Masterson has been great, but he's only one of five starters; the rest of the rotation at the very least needs to be not horrible, and Cabrera/Kipnis needs to break out of their early season slump. The good news last night was that although Kipnis didn't get a base hit, he hit the ball hard, with a couple of fine defensive plays taking away hits.