DETROIT: Justin Masterson does more than stop losing streaks. Tuesday night he started a winning streak.
Indians fans might not recall that a winning streak is, when a team scores more runs than its opponent in at least two consecutive games. Masterson is the primary reason the Tribe was able to vanquish the Detroit Tigers 3-2, giving the Wrecking-crew Wahoos (drum roll, please) two victories in a row.
How big of a deal is that? The last time the Indians had a two-game winning streak was Aug. 8 (against the Minnesota Twins) and 9 (against the Boston Red Sox). The last time they won two in a row on the road was June 30-July 1 against the Baltimore Orioles.
“For some reason, some way, we play better against Detroit,” Masterson said. “The guys feel it.”
Manager Manny Acta doesn’t think his team has waited to pitch well just until they play the Tigers, who are 5-9 against the Tribe.
“You can’t pick and choose the teams you play well against,” he said. “It happens that we’ve gotten good pitching when we play them. We roll into town against some teams and think we’re going to win the series or sweep, and it turns out to be the other way around.”
Asked whether two in a row is really a winning streak, Masterson said, “Absolutely. Who cares what happened [in the August collapse]? It’s what’s happening. When you’re as bad as we were in August, September comes as a relief.”
The past two days, the Indians have gone to the formula they used for almost three months to stay in the race: If they get a lead after six, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez will hold it.
Those three pitchers worked the final 2⅔ innings without allowing a hit or a run, striking out four.
The Tigers have developed an aversion to scoring when Rick Porcello is on the mound. In his past three starts, including Tuesday night, the Tigers have not scored a run while he was in the game. That’s a total of 16⅔ innings without a run.
OK, so maybe in his latest start, Masterson had something to do with the scoring drought by Porcello’s teammates. Masterson (11-12, 4.84 ERA) handcuffed the Tigers for 5⅔ innings, giving up three hits (one a bloop double, one an infield single).
But with one out in the sixth, Masterson issued his first walk, to Austin Jackson. Andy Dirks bounced into a forced play, but Miguel Cabrera followed by hitting the first pitch over the left-field wall for his 34th home run of the season. No wonder Acta considers Cabrera the most lethal hitter in the big leagues.
“Justin’s four-seamer was 94-97 [mph] consistently, and he used his two-seamer when he needed a ground ball,” Acta said. “His one mistake was hanging that slider to Miguel.”
Six strong innings
Masterson finished the inning by striking out Prince Fielder to complete six strong innings. Maybe Masterson’s up-and-down season is looking up again. It’s not often that he pitches effectively against the Tigers, particularly in Detroit. For his career, Masterson is 2-5 with a 5.22 ERA in 13 appearances (10 starts) against the Tigers and 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts at Comerica Park.
It takes awhile for Masterson to know whether he’s going to be on.
“Once I get to the fourth or fifth, I know,” he said. “Usually, that’s when the magic happens. It’s crazy.”
The Indians didn’t exactly bury Porcello under an avalanche of runs, but unlike Monday, when they scored two of their three runs on a passed ball and a sacrifice fly, Tribe batsmen hit their way onto the scoreboard.
In the second inning, Carlos Santana led off with a single and scored on Michael Brantley’s double just inside the first-base line. The ball rolled into the right-field corner, where the ball boy was sitting. Not realizing it was a fair ball, the kid fielded it.
His mistake did not cost the Tigers anything, because Santana would have scored anyway, and Brantley would have reached second.
Two outs later, Brantley stood on third, having advanced on Casey Kotchman’s groundout to the right side. Two-out RBI hits have been hard to come by for the Indians the past two months, but Jack Hannahan whistled a drive into left for a single that gave the Tribe a 2-0 advantage.
It became 3-0 in the third, when Shin-Soo Choo led off with a flair that dropped just inside the line in left for a double, and one out later, Asdrubal Cabrera doubled him home.
Cabrera and Santana singled with two outs in the fifth, but nothing came of that, and in the sixth the Tribe put two on with two outs but failed to pull the trigger on a timely hit.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.