With Justin Masterson loading the bases in the first inning and laboring though the first three innings of Monday’s game against the visiting Red Sox, Indians fans had to be fighting that here-we-go-again feeling with the struggling right-hander.
But for as bad as Masterson looked in the first three innings, he was equally brilliant though his final four, going on to blank the Red Sox through seven innings as the Indians held on to win the first game of the three-game series 3-2.
Just how dramatic was the difference between Masterson’s first three innings compared to his final four? Consider he needed 66 pitches to get through the three and 39 over the final four, including a nine-pitch fourth inning in which he struck out the side.
“In the moment, I didn’t realize it,” Masterson admitted of the precise moment he began to right the outing. “I just realized it was strike, strike, see you.”
After struggling to settle in early, Masterson enjoyed a dominating stretch in which he threw 25 consecutive strikes. It began with a double play A.J. Pierznski hit into to halt a two-out jam for Masterson to end the third inning through the second pitch of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz’s at-bat in the top of the sixth inning.
“We were pounding the zone really good, getting in good counts for myself and then had good movement as my slider started working really well,” Masterson said. “Once we got ahead, we started to use that slider to put guys away.”
After several rough outings last month followed by Monday’s three-hit, season-high 10 strikeout effort, the old laid-back Masterson was back as he joked about his stretch of strikes.
“I feel like I’ve probably thrown 25 balls in a row in one game, so it’s actually nice to throw 25 strikes in a row,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I felt really under control tonight, and that was great.”
That certainly wasn’t the case early on as he issued all four of his walks ove the first three innings and need to pitch to perfection to battle back from a 3-0 count to Jonny Gomes with the bases loaded in the first inning.
But once he did, it seemed to give the Indians offense early life beginning with Lonnie Chisenhall’s two-out, two run single that staked the host to a two-run lead. In the second, the Indians pushed the advantage to three unanswered runs when Michael Bourn led off with a triple and quickly came home on Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI single.
But with Masterson’s night done after seven innings, reliever Bryan Shaw gave up a two-run home run to Xander Bogaerts that pulled the Red Sox to within a run in the eighth. Shaw recoverd to coacx Dustin Pedroia to groundout and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski got Ortiz to fly out to end the inning with the Tribe still ahead.
In the ninth, Cody Allen breezed through the order, getting former Indian Grady Sizemore to pop up to short to end the game in a crisp two hours and 21 minutes.