CLEVELAND: Oh well, the Indians can still whip the Detroit Tigers in the final three games of the series.
That’s how you do it in baseball. Think about the next game, forget about the last one, especially if you’ve lost it 7-0 to your current arch rival.
The Tribe and the Tigers are battling for first place in the Central Division. Just six days ago, the Indians led the standings by one-half game. Today, they trail the Tigers by 2½ games.
Does losing the first game of a series put the Tribe emotionally behind the 8-ball?
“We’ll come back [today] and start over again,” Francona said. “If it’s a four-game series and one team gets deep into somebody’s bullpen in the first game, that can be an advantage.”
Friday night’s encounter wasn’t much of a contest. Justin Masterson gave one of his more hittable performances of the season and that does not mean he was a hit with the home fans, who numbered 40,167, the first non-Opening Day sellout at Progressive Field since 2011.
“Really, today I was flying open,” Masterson said, indicating that his pitching arm was lagging behind.
Then he tried to make a joke, explaining, “In my last outing, I had a little beard, and I shaved it. My head is a little lighter now, and it was pulling off to the side. I need to re-evaluate the next time I shave.”
Francona had a little different answer.
“Masterson didn’t have his real sharp breaking ball tonight,” he said. “When you don’t have your ‘A’ game against that lineup, it will certainly add to it [your problems].”
Had Masterson (10-7, 3.78 ERA) been on his game, it wouldn’t have made much difference. Try as they might, the Tribe has yet to find a way to win a game without scoring one or more runs.
But Masterson made it too easy for the Tigers. He walked too many (four), gave up too many hits (seven) and allowed his tormentors to bunch their hits in a way that would cause him maximum harm.
If he had only kept the lid on after the Tigers’ first salvo in the second inning, a rally that netted two runs.
Most of the damage came with two out, including the biggest hit of the inning, Ramon Santiago’s two-run single. It was all more than a little distressing that Santiago came into the game batting .169, and the only reason he was hitting ninth in the order is that there is no 10th.
Masterson gave up another run in the third on the first of Andy Dirks’ two doubles and Miguel’s Cabrera’s RBI single. Aside from that hit, Tribe pitchers kept Cabrera in check, which would have been a telling achievement had some of the lesser lights in the Tigers lineup been rendered helpless.
The killer inning for Masterson was the fifth. He walked Dirks with one out, and after Cabrera grounded out, Prince Fielder walked. Victor Martinez delivered a single to score Dirks, and Jhonny Peralta doubled to bring two runs to the plate and send Masterson to the dugout.
Masterson also said that his No. 1 pitch, a sinker, was problematic.
“Some ground balls got through,” he said. “My sinker was up a little bit, and when a sinker is up, anybody can hit it.”
Not surprisingly, it took Masterson 108 pitches to retire 14 batters and allow six runs. In leaving after 4⅔ innings, it was his briefest appearance of the season. He had gone at least five innings in every start.
Rick Porcello seemed to wield some sort of spell over the Tribe’s batsmen. And not for the first time. Porcello (5-6, 4.82 ERA) came into the game with a career record of 6-3 and a 3.87 ERA against the Indians.
“He worked ahead, threw strike one and reached back for extra velocity when he needed it,” Francona said. “I think he touched 96. That opened up everything else.”
Porcello beat the Indians 6-4, giving up one earned run in six innings in Detroit on June 8. He also had a no-decision on May 12, when the Tigers earned a 4-3 decision and Porcello gave up two runs in six innings.
Including the seven scoreless innings he threw Friday night, Porcello has given up three earned runs in 19 innings in three 2013 starts.
After the game, Carlos Carrasco was called up from Triple-A Columbus to start today, and Joe Martinez was optioned to Triple-A. During his brief stay, Martinez pitched in two games, including three innings Friday night. In five innings, he gave up one run and four hits.
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.