CLEVELAND: It’s a lot more fun when you do it to them, than when they do it to you.
The Indians have had their streaks of seeming invincibility broken and reversed. So the past two nights have been pleasant for the Tribe, which defeated the Kansas City Royals 6-3 Wednesday to start a losing streak for the visitors.
It’s only two games, but considering that the Royals came to town having won 10-of-12 then took the first of three in Cleveland, it was satisfying to turn the tables.
One of the hallmarks of the Royals’ hot streak has been exceptional pitching. Heading into Wednesday night’s game, their staff led the American League with a 3.37 ERA. This month, it has been even better: 1.89.
It looked like starter Luis Mendoza would keep that ERA right where it is or maybe even lower it when he breezed through four innings without giving up a hit and allowing only one base runner to reach on a walk.
“It’s really hard to see early in the game as we creep into summer,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And Mendoza’s slider was giving us fits. But he started using it a lot, and we started laying off of it [when it wasn’t a strike].”
The Indians’ hitting star of the evening, Michael Brantley, hit the first of his two home runs to lead off the fifth inning, trimming the Tribe deficit to one run. He also went deep in the eighth off Luke Hochevar.
Does hitting two home runs in one game indicate that Brantley is about to become a home run machine?
“I’m just trying to put good swings on the ball,” he said. “I don’t try to do too much, and I’m not going to try and hit home runs.”
Brantley doubled his season total of homers in one game.
“I think it will be fun to see where it takes him,” Francona said, when asked what kind of hitter Brantley ultimately will become. “The last thing we talk about is pulling the ball and hitting home runs. But it will be fun to see if he’s a .300 hitter or hits home runs or both.
“He’s such a professional hitter. He gives you a quality at-bat against just about any pitcher in the league.”
Brantley isn’t about to swing hard in case he hits it, but he enjoyed hitting two home runs in one game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. I don’t show much emotion, but I’m smiling about that.”
In the sixth, the sky fell on Mendoza. He left after facing five batters and retiring none, having given up three hits and two walks, the second of which, issued to Carlos Santana, drove in a run. Mendoza also gave up an RBI single to Mike Aviles.
Tim Collins took over after the bases-loaded walk and gave up a sacrifice fly to Brantley, scoring a run that was charged to Mendoza, who yielded four runs on only four hits and three walks.
Justin Masterson (9-5, 3.48 ERA) gave up nine hits in 6⅓ innings, but seldom did he seem in danger of drowning under a sea of runs. Maybe that’s because of the 19 batters he retired, eight went down on strikes and nine grounded out. That included three balls hit back to the mound.
Not that Masterson dominated all that he surveyed. The Royals littered the bases with runners during Masterson’s watch, but they couldn’t sustain rallies.
“The day he pitches, we feel pretty good,” Francona said. “He’s earned that. The consistency of his stuff this year has been tremendous. He really did a good job.”
The Royals broke through against him for a run in the fourth on David Lough’s infield hit, Mike Moustakas’ double and Elliot Johnson’s RBI single. But with runners on first and third and one out, Masterson fanned Alcides Escobar and got Alex Gordon on a line drive to first on which Mark Reynolds made a diving catch.
Masterson escaped the fifth inning with minimal damage after Eric Hosmer led off with a single and stole second. One out later, Billy Butler singled, but Hosmer had to hold second because the ball barely reached the outfield. With two out, Lough delivered an RBI single, but Masterson retired Moustakas on a bouncer to short.
“I feel that I’m more in control,” Masterson said. “More than in years past.”
Continuing his excellence at Progressive Field, Masterson lifted his 2013 home record to 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA, averaging seven innings per start.
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.