By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
MINNEAPOLIS: Maybe if Brian Dozier hadn’t broken his bat leading off the seventh inning, the lazy fly ball he hit to center field might have carried far enough for Drew Stubbs to catch it.
Instead, the ball dropped “three inches” (according to Stubbs) in front of the diving outfielder and bounced past him for a double that snapped a no-hitter for Justin Masterson, who nevertheless was the key figure in the Indians’ 7-1 win over the Twins Sunday at Target Field.
Masterson (11-7, 3.60 ERA) didn’t seem disturbed about giving up a hit — even a hit that was not struck with authority — and finished the inning before being removed by manager Terry Francona.
After Dozier broke up the no-hit bid, Francona walked to the mound to check Masterson’s psyche.
“Tito came out to make sure I didn’t get jealous of Scott Kazmir,” joked Masterson. “He comes out to see him all the time. He said, ‘You OK? You all right?’ ”
Masterson felt just fine, and why not? Despite the broken no-hit bid, he worked seven strong innings, allowed just one run and one hit, walked none and struck out eight.
Nine other Twins beat the ball into the dirt for outs, two hit infield pop flies, one was thrown out trying to steal and one was retired on a fly ball to the outfield.
Masterson hadn’t pitched for 10 days because of the layoff created by the All-Star Game. He was picked for the American League squad but did not pitch.
“I thought he came out a little strong because of it,” Francona said. “He had tremendous pop on his fastball, and he threw a lot of strikes. It took while for him to get his slider going, but it helped him later on.”
Masterson didn’t think the extended period of inactivity had any impact on his effectiveness.
“I knew I had been gone for awhile,” he said. “It was nice to get out there.”
Stubbs just missed making the play.
“It was just a matter of inches,” he said. “I could tell that he got jammed with the pitch. I just tried to come as hard as I could. I missed by about three inches.”
Michael Brantley got a good look at the play from left field.
“I just knew it was going to be close,” he said. “He got a good break on it coming in. I wanted to get over and back it up just in case it got by him.”
Masterson threw an inordinately high percentage of strikes (72) but didn’t feel like he was in any sort of inexplicable zone.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “When things are not going well, I feel uncomfortable.”
Jason Kipnis was impressed with Masterson’s pace and stuff.
“You’re definitely in the game with him on the mound,” Kipnis said. “You’re on your toes, because he’s fast and efficient. The guy can go deep in a game before anybody figures him out. He’s got that kind of stuff.”
The Twins never have been patsies for Masterson. In his previous six starts against them, dating to the outset of 2012, Masterson was 2-3 with an 8.44 ERA against Minnesota.
But he struggled against many teams last year. He is a different pitcher now.
“I’m not surprised,” said Francona, who oversaw Masterson’s infant months in the majors with the Red Sox. “I will never change my feeling about this. Masterson will always find a way to win. He has matured into an elite pitcher in this league.”
After scoring four runs in the previous two games combined, the Indians generated two big hits: Kipnis’ 15th home run of the season with a runner on base in the third inning, and Brantley’s triple with the bases loaded in the fifth that broke the game open.
“I think the guys came out today with a sense of urgency,” Kipnis said. “You don’t want to leave here getting swept.”
The home run established a new career best for Kipnis, who hit 14 last year. It was his second homer in as many games, pushing his RBI total to 62. He also had an RBI single in the ninth.
Brantley’s bases-loaded triple came with two outs in the fifth.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” he said. “After that, it’s out of my control.”
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.