CLEVELAND: When your performances have been up and down and all around, the best thing you can do is try to leave the audience wanting more.
It was a good move by Justin Masterson, who started the season as the Indians’ No 1 starter and ended it as who knows what? Nobody capable of counting to five could legitimately rank Masterson as a staff ace. Then again, who among the Tribe’s starters is more proficient?
Everyone had plenty of time to think about that Tuesday night, because the Tribe didn’t beat the White Sox 4-3 until the 12th inning, when Jason Donald produced his first career walk off hit, delivering a single to score Lonnie Chisenhall from second with two out.
Donald was facing hard-throwing Nate Jones and was looking for one pitch, then got another.
“The guy throws 98,” Donald said. “You look for anything else [but a fastball], you’re done. Then he left a slider up.”
Masterson pitched six strong innings, giving up one run and four hits, walking one.
Granted, Masterson’s dominance came against a patchwork lineup after a night in which the Sox finally caved to the Tigers in the race for the Central Division championship. But what was Masterson supposed to do? Demand to face Paul Konerko, Kevin Youkilis, A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios?
Before the game, manager Sandy Alomar was talking about the thing that has held Masterson back: an inability to consistently throw his sinker with a downward arc instead of a lateral drift, which keeps it on the plane of a swinging bat.
“A lot of pitchers focus on the movement — I’m not saying he does — and they should be focusing on command,” Alomar said. “And it might be easier for him to command a four-seam fastball.”
Alomar isn’t saying that Masterson should abandon his sinker. It’s his best pitch, often a swing-and-miss pitch that also produces an abundance of ground balls. Masterson threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes against the White Sox, so he knows he can do it.
“There were only three fly balls, and he got 10 ground balls,” Alomar said. “His best pitch tonight was a slider, and it kept them off balance. He gave us an opportunity today. Before [the game] I was talking about his command problems, but tonight, it was the opposite.”
Looking back on an erratic season, Masterson said there were things he would have liked to change but can’t.
“There were a couple of hands full of games that I could have done better,” he said. “Like not giving up seven or eight runs would have been nice. I wish those games hadn’t taken place. But you learn and grow from them. Then you come in next year and do what you’re supposed to do.”
Masterson’s only slip came in the sixth inning, when Dewayne Wise doubled with one out and scored immediately on Orlando Hudson’s single. The run neutralized Shin-Soo Choo’s 16th home run of the season and kept the score tied until Chris Perez gave up a two-run bomb to Dayan Viciedo in the ninth.
Travis Hafner came to the plate with nobody out and a runner on first in the ninth and hit his 200th career home run as an Indian to tie the score 3-3.
Alomar endeared himself to the small gathering of fans and probably to his players when he trotted to first base in the eighth inning to dispute a ruling by umpire Mike Everitt, who called Hudson safe on his twisting ground ball to the left of the mound. Vinnie Pestano hustled after it and made an off-balance throw to Casey Kotchman, who tried to tag the runner but probably missed (according to the replay).
That’s also the way Everitt saw it, and Alomar didn’t contest the issue for long. But one complaint suffered by ousted manager Manny Acta was that he too seldom backed his players with the umpires.
Alomar’s brief argument hardly qualified as a dramatic highlight, but when Perez hit Tyler Flowers with a pitch in the eighth inning, emotions immediately escalated. Perez had given up Viciedo’s homer two batters earlier, so hitting Flowers became instantly suspicious.
“He had no intent to hit that guy,” Alomar said. “But he knew it looked bad because of the home run.”
While Flowers was being tended to by the White Sox trainer, Perez walked onto the infield grass to trade taunts with players in the visitors’ dugout. Nothing further transpired, but there’s one more game tonight.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.