CHICAGO: As Monday night’s game progressed, it was clear that the Indians would need help to prevail.
Only one party would be able to supply assistance, the Chicago White Sox, who accommodated by making a crucial error to give the Tribe a 3-2 win at U.S. Cellular Field.
By the eighth inning, Tribe hitters looked so dead at the plate that if one of them drew a walk, he might be too weak to crawl to first.
But with one out, Drew Stubbs beat out an infield single to third and stole second. Michael Brantley did draw a walk and did not need oxygen to trot to first.
Then left-hander Matt Thornton got a bright idea; he would pick Stubbs off second base. Instead, he bounced a throw into center field, and both runners move up a base, Stubbs to third, Brantley to second.
One out later, Asdrubal Cabrera stepped to the plate. He missed Sunday’s game after bruising his wrist trying to break a fall down the dugout steps at Minute Maid Park in Houston, but now he was back.
Cabrera lined a single to center to score both runners and give the Tribe a lead.
“This was the perfect chance,’’ Cabrera said. “That’s what I was thinking.’’
Cabrera has been struggling at the plate for virtually the entire month, so maybe this kind of hit will help end his slump.
“He’s going to get turned around regardless,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “This was a huge win for us [third in a row]. We’ve gotten big home runs this year, but this time we strung some singles together.’’
Various circumstances have limited the expected flood of stolen bases by Indians speedsters. But Monday night, the Tribe was daring Sox catcher Hector Gimenez to throw them out.
Before Thornton’s errant throw to second, three runners tried and two succeeded, leading to speculation that Thornton felt pressure to force the Indians to hold their bases.
“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Francona said. “If they don’t [try to hold Stubbs at second], he can steal third. That’s our game, and I think it helped tonight.’’
Return of the ace
After an absence of one game, when the Red Sox apparently taped a fragment of kryptonite to the underside of his cap, Justin Masterson returned to being the closest thing the Indians have to an ace.
Masterson (4-1, 1.85 ERA) gave up four runs in five innings to the Red Sox, but he held the White Sox to two runs, four hits and four walks in seven innings and left the game trailing 2-1.
His biggest problem was the Indians’ offense; his second and third biggest were giving up a solo home run to Conor Gillaspie at the outset of the second inning and a double to Gimenez in the fourth.
“I think the [home run] pitch was a four-seamer right down the middle,’’ Masterson said, starting to smile. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was a changeup. The first one of the year.’’
With a little luck, Masterson might have escaped trouble in the fourth, when the Tribe just missed turning a double play that would have ended the inning. But with two outs and Alexei Ramirez on first, Gimenez smacked his double, allowing Ramirez to score.
Dylan Axelrod has seldom been described as unhittable. In his first three starts this season, he posted an 0-1 record and 4.70 ERA in 15⅓ innings.
Maybe Tribe batsmen didn’t read his most recent set of statistics. They scored one run in six innings against him, and they were fortunate to get on the scoreboard at all.
“He was getting that breaking ball in and out of the zone,’’ Francona said. “He had a lot of deception, and we got a little frustrated.’’
With one out in the second inning, Jason Giambi hit a flair to left for a single and with two outs, Mark Reynolds walked to put runners on second and first. That brought up Lonnie Chisenhall, who blooped a hit to left. As Alejandro De Aza raced in to field the ball on a hop, the ball took a bad bounce and rolled 30 feet beyond him, allowing Giambi to score and Chisenhall to pull into second with a double.
Axelrod gave up one other hit, Brantley’s hard ground ball past the first baseman with two outs in the fifth. In addition, Axelrod walked two and struck out four.
Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez finished off the eighth and ninth innings, combining to give up one hit and striking out two.
“Yeah, that was fun,’’ Francona said, referring to Perez living on the edge to save Sunday’s game. “But this was OK. I don’t need that much excitement.’’
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.