By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Too many touted pitching matchups end with both starters getting shelled from the game before the thirstiest fan finishes his first draft beer.
Not so Justin Masterson against Yu Darvish on Saturday night at Progressive Field. Their confrontation more than lived up to expectations, with Masterson coming out on top, as the Indians defeated the Rangers 1-0.
“That was impressive on both sides,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Thankfully, Bourny ambushed him. But Darvish throws his fastball 90-97, cuts it, adds and subtracts. He has so many ways to get you out.’’
Bourny is Michael Bourn, who homered in the first inning to produce the only run of the game off a pitcher he had never faced.
“I heard a lot about him,’’ Bourn said. “Believe the hype.’’
Pitch counts don’t mean as much since Nolan Ryan became one of the executives running the show. Ryan scoffs at the idea that pitchers have to start thinking about heading for the showers after 100 deliveries. So the fact that Darvish made 123 pitches in six innings barely registered on the Twitter headline machine.
Besides, he held the Tribe to one run and struck out 11, running his American League-leading total to 172. By comparison, Masterson leads the Indians in strikeouts with 145, good for fourth place in the league.
That’s just one reason the pitching matchup rose to the level of marquee: Darvish, the top starter for the Rangers, against Masterson, No. 1 for the Indians.
“Masty competed his rear end off,’’ Francona said.
Darvish’s worst moment of the night came on the second pitch he threw, as Michael Bourn whacked a 1-and-0 pitch over the wall in right for his fourth home run of the season leading off the first inning.
Bourn wasn’t going to wait long, so he swung at the first good pitch he saw.
“I know how tough he is,’’ Bourn said. “I didn’t want to get down in the count.’’
But the homer only served to raise false hopes for Cleveland partisans. Darvish struck out five of the next six batters, maybe just to show that the homer was some sort of apparition.
Darvish (9-5, 2.80 ERA) allowed only three hits, but he walked four, so the Tribe had chances to score. Lonnie Chisenhall and Bourn walked with one out in the third, but Nick Swisher – who whiffed three times against Darvish – couldn’t advance the runners.
Asdrubal Cabrera led off the fourth with a single, and Michael Brantley lined out to the shortstop. But Carlos Santana and Jason Giambi struck out.
With two out in the sixth, Brantley doubled and stole third. Santana walked, but Giambi’s long drive to center was caught just short of the track.
Masterson (12-7, 3.42 ERA) was more efficient if not as spectacular – striking out “only’’ eight – giving up five hits and only one walk in 7⅔ innings.
Catcher Santana told the media that Masterson’s slider was perfect.
“He’s too kind,’’ Masterson said with a smile. “He likes to use the word perfect a little too much.’’
This was the third 1-0 win of the season for Masterson, the others being complete games.
“You don’t really think about 1-0,’’ he said. “But you do get satisfaction, a team satisfaction, about a shutout. The thing about 1-0 is that they go quick. You feel like you’re getting out of there.’’
But on Masterson’s 113th pitch, with two out in the eighth, Nelson Cruz singled to center, triggering a jog to the mound by Francona to change pitchers. Joe Smith got the final out on Adrian Beltre’s drive to the left field track that was caught by Brantley.
Does Masterson ever peek at his pitch count on the scoreboard?
“Maybe once in awhile,’’ he said. “But I think I can throw 400 pitches. So I had about 380 to go.’’
Actually, it was more like 280, but who’s counting?
Not surprisingly, of Masterson’s 23 outs, 12 came by way of ground balls, Masterson’s stock-in-trade. Only one out was caught by an outfielder.
Only one Ranger runner reached third in the lone inning that Masterson had to sweat out.
With one out in the fifth, Geovany Soto singled and with two out, Masterson hit Ian Kinsler with a pitch. Engel Beltre followed with a single to right, but Soto had to hold at third, loading the bases. Cruz ended the inning by bouncing into a force play.
Chris Perez retired the side in order in the ninth for his 14th save of the year..
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.