CLEVELAND: For the third time in three games against the Oakland A’s, the Indians took an early lead Sunday on a gorgeous day for baseball at Progressive Field.
But also for the third time in those three games, the A’s quickly wiped away the deficit and made up for lost time by slugging their way to a season best in runs in a 13-3 victory that clinched the series sweep over the reeling Tribe.
During the weekend series, the Indians were outscored 30-6, hit just .191 as a team and were 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position as their losing streak reached four games.
Sunday’s game featured the worst of it, even as center fielder Michael Bourn put the Indians on the board with a first-inning leadoff home run, his first homer of season. Starting pitcher Justin Masterson couldn’t hold the lead for even an inning, as the Indians played from behind the rest of the day.
“[The series] was very frustrating,” Bourn said. “We got beat in every facet of the game: pitching, defense, timely hitting. They beat us in every way and we got embarrassed on our home field. And it doesn’t get any easier, we got Detroit coming to town next.”
Ah, the Tigers. Just the major leagues’ top team boasting a 26-12 record, as they entered Sunday night’s game in Boston looking for a series sweep of their own before heading to Cleveland to start a three-game series today.
The Indians had their hands full with the feisty A’s Sunday. Masterson, who labored with his control throughout his 4⅓ innings, wasn’t even able to take advantage of three double plays turned behind him. After he issued his fifth walk and was hammered for a four-run fifth inning, the bullpen took over with one out.
“He had trouble with his slider,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He yanked a couple 3-2 [counts] clear across the batter’s box. So he ended up kind of relying on one pitch and there was traffic the whole time.”
Known for being even-keel after his starts, whether win or lose, Masterson was unusually reserved following Sunday’s game.
“The next one will be good, don’t worry,” said Masterson, who dropped to 2-3 with a with a 5.06 ERA with the loss. “This is the anomaly. The next one will be good. Just my arm was a little long, missing short, missing long. The next time, we’ll slice and dice again.”
There was none of that Sunday, not even from the Tribe’s rock-solid bullpen. Josh Outman managed to tiptoe out of the jam Masterson left him with in the fifth, but the A’s tagged Outman for two more runs in the next inning to take a 9-2 lead and end the lefty’s outing.
Even with five more innings to make up ground, the stagnant Indians offense, featuring a new lineup that had struggling Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana further down in the order, couldn’t even come close to digging out of a 7-1 hole.
One of the Tribe’s hottest hitters, left fielder Michael Brantley, did all he could to try to carry the club. He went 2-for-3 with two RBI, including a fifth-inning solo home run that soared 423 feet before landing in the right field bullpen and cut the deficit to five runs.
In the sixth, after the A’s piled on two more runs in the top of the inning, Brantley walked with the bases loaded against Oakland’s former closer, Jim Johnson. Just like the Tribe’s embattled closer, John Axford, it was as if no lead would be safe with Johnson on the mound — even in mop-up duty with a seven-run advantage in the seventh.
With an Indians run in and the bases loaded, Fernando Abad replaced Johnson and quelled the Tribe’s threat by striking out Ryan Raburn to end the inning.
Regardless of who was on the mound for the Tribe, the A’s just kept hitting and scoring in assembly-line fashion. Even the Tribe’s lockdown set-up man, Cody Allen, gave up three runs in the eighth in a brief appearance in which he didn’t record an out.
“We gotta find a way to fix it, and fix it fast,” Bourn said. “We just need one of those games where we win a big one. But it boils down to we just have to pitch and play defense. Hitting comes around. But when you talk about being a good team, pitching and defense always wins games.”
Speaking of defense, it’s worth noting that the Indians filled their usual quota in that category as well Sunday. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and the embattled Swisher each committed an error (in addition to a Santana passed ball) that increased the club’s league-leading error total to 45 in 44 games.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.