CLEVELAND: The Detroit Tigers literally spotted the Indians a run, but the Tribe couldn’t overcome three errors, an inability to generate sufficient offense and erratic starting pitching from Justin Masterson.
Consequently, the Tigers’ 5-3 win Saturday at Progressive Field enabled them to remain one game behind the Chicago White Sox, who lead the Central Division.
For several minutes in the fifth inning, it appeared that the Tigers had scored five runs rather than four because of a confusing base-running situation in which Quinton Berry beat out an infield hit to short, and Asdrubal Cabrera heaved the ball wildly to third trying to throw out Alex Avila, who trotted home on the error.
Or did he? Avila had a problem: He missed third base. Michael Brantley noticed, though it was difficult to see the play from the dugout. But because Indians manager Manny Acta summoned Tony Sipp from the bullpen to replace Masterson, one of the coaches had time to race to the clubhouse and watch the play on video, which showed that Avila definitely had failed to touch third.
The Tribe appealed and won, and the Tigers lost a run. Not that it mattered, particularly when Miguel Cabrera homered off Sipp to lead off the seventh.
“We didn’t see what Avila did right off the bat,” Acta said. “But some guys saw from the dugout, and our coaches watched the video.”
From the Indians’ perspective, that was the most provocative play of the game, though the workmanship of relievers Cody Allen and Scott Barnes was the best thing that happened in looking toward the club’s future well-being.
Allen entered the game with one out and the bases loaded in the seventh and struck out Berry and Omar Infante. He came out for the eighth and struck out the side: Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and Cabrera. Five batters up, five batters down on strikes is hard to beat.
Barnes pitched the ninth and retired the side in order.
“It was very good to see those two kids pitching like that at the end,” Acta said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re looking for.”
The Tribe was not looking for errors by Lonnie Chisenhall, Lou Marson and Cabrera, which added up to two unearned runs, coincidentally the margin of the Tigers’ victory.
In the past seven games, the Indians committed nine errors that led to nine unearned runs.
“We made it interesting the last three innings, but we fell short,” Acta said. “Masterson had very good stuff, but he didn’t have command of the strike zone.”
Late afternoon shadows that kept the pitcher’s mound in sunlight and the path to the plate in relative darkness for a few innings are part of the deal when a game begins at 4 p.m.
Masterson (11-14, 4.93 ERA) struck out six batters the first two innings but trailed 2-0, partly because of the error by Chisenhall.
“There were a lot of shadows,” Masterson said, when he was asked about the strikeouts. “I tried to take full advantage of that. I wasn’t thinking about the shadows until I got out there and saw how the hitters were reacting. I threw some nice sinkers, where it’s now you see it, now you don’t.”
His inability to throw enough strikes took its toll. Masterson walked two batters in the first inning and both scored. In the fifth, he walked the leadoff batter, who also scored. The score: four total walks, three runs.
Talking about Masterson’s inconsistency, Acta said, “It can go from outing to outing. One game he’ll be very good, and the next time he scuffles.”
Masterson, who gave up four runs (two earned) and six hits in 4⅔ innings, acknowledged his erratic performance level.
“When you look at where we are, I haven’t done the job I’m supposed to do,” he said. “That’s what’s gotten us where we are.”
With two outs in the seventh inning, Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez was working on a no-hitter. The only batter to reach base to that point was Shin-Soo Choo, who was hit by a pitch in the fourth but got wiped out by Carlos Santana’s double-play ball.
But Santana redeemed himself by whacking a 3-and-2 pitch for a triple that carried over the head of Jackson in center. Russ Canzler promptly doubled home Santana, and Chisenhall singled to score Canzler, signaling the end of Sanchez’s work day.
“In my third at-bat, I was trying to think hitting it up the middle,” Santana said. “He threw me a fastball. I wasn’t looking for a fastball but any pitch that was around the plate.”
Santana has turned around a poor first half but, “He’s been better in the second half,” Acta said. “Unfortunately, he’s the only one who has picked it up in the second half.”
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.