CLEVELAND: As fielder’s choice plays go, this was probably among the top 10 in any season.
Jason Kipnis hit the ball, Drew Stubbs took off from third. And as Indians radio voice Tom Hamilton would say, “Ballgame!”
And after beating the Washington Nationals 2-1 in the ninth inning Friday night, the Tribe has a three-game winning streak on the heels of an eight-game skid.
“We’re around .500 right now, but we don’t want to have an 18-4 month then a 4-18 month,” Kipnis said. “But we know we can put up the 18-4, so we never got down on ourselves.”
Stubbs started the ninth-inning rally off Fernando Abad with a one-out single, and as he took off to steal second with Michael Bourn at the plate, Bourn singled through the right side to give the Indians runners on first and third.
Bourn stole second to eliminate the double play, and Abad ran the count to 3-and-2 on Kipnis.
Abad tried a curveball, and Kipnis hit it hard down the first-base line. With the infield playing in for a play at the plate, Adam LaRoche had to make a diving stop, then throw to the plate. Stubbs took off, hoping his speed would win the day.
He slid. Catcher Kurt Suzuki had to swing around after taking the throw to the right of the plate, and his tag was a fraction of a second late.
“It’s a chance you have to take,” said Stubbs, who was running on contact. “You hope it’s a hit or you’re going to beat the ball. I knew the throw beat me, but it was on the opposite side of the plate. When he made the tag, I knew I was under it. The umpire made the right call.”
For an instant, Kipnis thought the ball eluded LaRoche and got to the outfield.
“I was hoping it was through, but LaRoche made a heck of a play,” Kipnis said.
Kipnis couldn’t turn around quickly enough to see if Stubbs was safe.
“The ball was coming right at me,” he said. “I waited for the crowd applause.”
After making two subpar starts in a row — par for Justin Masterson these days is about two runs in six innings — Masterson was back on his game as if to prove he can be every bit as lethal as touted Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.
For a while, it seemed that each starter was bent on striking out more batters than the other guy, although that probably was not the intent.
Masterson struck out four in a row, including the side in the second inning and finished with 10 strikeouts in seven innings. He gave up just two hits, but kept the crowd of 30,824 Dollar Dog hunters on edge by walking four.
Manager Terry Francona mentioned the lethal nature of Masterson’s slider.
“My slider, sinker, magic pitch, it was all good,” Masterson said.
Gonzalez struck out eight in seven innings and also walked four, but he didn’t pay for his lack of command. Masterson did.
In the third, walks and a badly timed wild pitch cost him a run. Suzuki led off the inning by drawing a walk, and Steve Lombardozzi singled to put runners on first and second. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, Roger Bernadina walked to load the bases.
Before LaRoche could become Masterson’s fifth strikeout victim, the right-hander buried a pitch in the dirt that got away from Carlos Santana, and Suzuki scored.
Of Masterson’s 21 outs, only two were balls caught in the air by outfielders. Bernadina lined to Michael Brantley in left for the second out of the game, and Brantley caught Lombardozzi’s routine fly to end the seventh.
Gonzalez was no less effective. He allowed a first-inning double by Kipnis that came to nothing, but with two outs in the fourth, Ryan Raburn sent Gonzalez’s 1-and-1 pitch sailing over the fence in right for his eighth home run of the season.
“Two top-of-the-rotation starters showed why they are top-of-the-rotation starters,” Kipnis said.
In the sixth, Gonzalez seemed to lose his composure when he walked the bases loaded after two were out. However, he induced Mark Reynolds to pop out to the second baseman to end the inning.
Gonzalez allowed just three hits — Santana had in infield single following Raburn’s homer — but even though he limited the Tribe to one run, it took 127 pitches for him to retire 21 batters.
Cody Allen and Joe Smith followed Masterson and retired all six batters they faced.
“This was the best of the three [consecutive] wins,” Masterson said. “We kept it close and pulled it out at the end.”
Top pick has deal
Early in Friday night’s game, the Indians announced that they had an announcement about the draft. Then they changed their minds and called it off.
However, it is clear that the Tribe and first-round pick, high school outfielder Clint Frazier, have agreed to terms on a contract. Frazier will work out with the team today and be available to the media late in the afternoon.
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.