Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts from the Indians 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox Monday in the first of the three-game series against the defending World Series Champion.
1) Who was that imitating the Justin Masterson of old from the fourth inning on? More important, will that dominating version of the big right-hander show up the rest of the season – or at least a majority of it?
2) Masterson (3-4, 4.72 ERA) looked like the same struggling pitcher he’s been through the first two months of the season in the first three innings Monday, especially in the first when he faced bases-loaded. But after coming within a ball of walking in a run with a 3-0 count on six-hole hitter Jonny Gomes, Masterson fought back to get a full count before getting out of the jam when he got Gomes to strike out looking.
3) Masterson walked another batter in the second and finally escaped a two-on jam in the third when he coaxed Boston catcher A.J. Pierzynski to ground into an inning-ending double play. But from Pierzynski’s at-bat though his second pitch to David Ortiz in the sixth inning, Masterson threw 25 consecutive strikes as his location improved and began to be able to put hitters away with his practically unhittable slider.
4) Michael Bourn contonued his hot-hitting ways, going 2-for-3 with a triple, walk and two runs scored. He walked to start the bottom of the first inning, stole second base and scored on a Lonnie Chisenhall (who still hasn’t slowed down at the plate) two-run bloop single. In the third, Bourn led off with a triple and promptly scored on Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI single. So far this season, 42 percent of Bourn's extra-base hits have come on triples.
5) Bryan Shaw’s arm just might fall off if the Indians aren’t more careful - and manager Terry Francona knows it. After reluctantly calling on the veteran right-hander for the third consecutive day to pitch – this time Monday to start the eighth inning - Shaw surrendered a one-out, two-run home to Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts that pulled the visitors to within a run, 3-2.
6) “I told Shaw if he goes to arbitration, ‘I’ll go with you and tell them I shouldn’t have pitched you that much tonight,’” Francona said afterwards, knowing he’s been relying a little too heavily on the go-to veteran right-hander.
7) Problem is, the combination of Shaw, left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski, veteran Scott Atchison and new closer Cody Allen have been so good late in close games, it’s hard to make up ground in the standings after a slow start without being able to mix and match them as opposed to just going with a traditional reliever per inning.
8) Plus, it doesn’t help bullpen matters in the least bit that the ‘pen is carrying what amounts to dead weight right now in former closer John Axford (who didn’t pitch for the sixth consecutive day Monday) and former failed-starter-turned-reliever Carlos Carrasco.
9) This new Boston Grady Sizemore is no where near the Indians Sizemore of old. Not only does he look like he’s aged a ton since we last saw him patrolling center field for the Tribe, but he played like it Monday, too. The Red Sox right fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and popped out to short to end the game in the ninth inning of a one-run game. He entered the game batting a mere .232 and hitting seventh.
“I was a kid when he was here at his peak,” Allen said. “To be able to get him out for the 27th out of the game was pretty cool.”
10) After the Tribe’s early-season struggles, consider that the Indians have now won four consecutive games, halted the Red Sox’ seven-game winning streak and increased their American League-best home record to 19-11. Enjoy it Tribe fans. Who knows how long the good times will last. Perhaps it’s just me, but this season, this team always seems to be just a bad road trip away from struggling again.