CHICAGO -- The Indians have reached the point on the calendar where they now control their own destiny. Cleveland's current road trip has presented a prime opportunity for the club to put itself in a good position for the stretch run.
Three games in Chicago against the team on Cleveland's heels. Three this weekend in Detroit against the club leading the pack in the American League Central. And the rest of the way, the Tribe will face divisional foes in 30 of its final 42 contests.
"We can't worry about who else is losing or winning," Indians starter Justin Masterson said following Thursday's 4-2 victory over the White Sox in Chicago. "If we take care of what we can -- win our games when we go out -- it's going to speak for itself.
"We don't need to worry about anybody else or need anyone else to go out and beat anybody."
No, now is the time for the Tribe to take care of business on its own.
When this three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field began, Cleveland was embarking on a grueling stretch of 45 games over the final 44 days of the season. The Indians began that journey with a 14-inning loss to the White Sox that might have had the potential to serve as a knockout punch.
Instead, the Indians fought back, as they have all year long.
One day after a Fausto Carmona's stellar performance led Cleveland back into the win column, Masterson was solid in keeping Chicago's bats at bay. The offense provided sufficient support, and the Indians (62-58) now head to Detroit only 1 1/2 games back of the Tigers for first place in the division.
"We lost that first game and we were three back of Detroit," Indians closer Chris Perez said, "with the White Sox gaining ground. They had some momentum with [Mark] Buehrle on the mound [Wednesday]. It's a little statement -- the way Fausto and Justin threw the last two nights -- a little statement saying we've got the arms to compete."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was not about to argue.
"We ran into a couple of good pitchers the last couple of days," Guillen said. "I have to give those guys that. The way Carmona throw and the way this kid has been throwing all year long. We gave him a little fight. We just couldn't pull the trigger."
Masterson (10-7, 2.71 ERA) limited the White Sox (61-62) to only two runs on seven hits over six innings. The sinkerballer labored some with his command, and his pitch count climbed quickly to 108 as a result, but he managed to control the damage before turning things over to the bullpen.
Paul Konerko belted a solo homer off Masterson in the third inning and Tyler Flowers chipped in an RBI single in the fourth, but that was all the offense Chicago could muster. As a result, Cleveland picked up its first road series win since July 1-3 in Cincinnati, and the Tribe notched two straight wins against the Sox for the first time since June 2010.
"Masterson had good stuff," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He just battled a little bit throughout the six innings -- got his pitch count up -- but his stuff was so good that, still, whenever he got in trouble, he could get away with it."
Former Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome -- acquired by the Indians in a trade on July 28 -- shined in his return to the city of his former employer. Over the past two games, Fukudome went 5-for-8 at the plate for the Tribe. In Thursday's win, he collected three hits, including an RBI triple that gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning.
Fukudome, who is hitting .340 over his past 12 games, said that he has enjoyed stepping into the middle of a postseason race.
"Keeping us in the race is definitely keeping my motivation up," Fukudome said through interpreter Hiro Aoyama. "That might be a little thing, but it's something I'm doing well."
Fukudome's first hit of the night came under frightening circumstances.
With one out in the second inning, Fukudome lined a pitch from Chicago right-hander Philip Humber up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on the head just above his right eye. Humber tumbled over backwards before shifting to his feet. After talking to trainers, Humber walked off the field under his own power.
The White Sox indicated that Humber was alert and responsive after the incident.
"That was very scary," said Acta, who knows Humber personally from their days in the Mets organization. "It happened so fast. I didn't know that the ball hit him in the forehead. I thought it hit him square in the face. It would've been so dangerous -- nose, eyes, whatever."
Fukudome was also shaken up by the play.
"I saw exactly what happened," Fukudome said. "I couldn't do anything, because it happened after I hit it. I felt bad about it. I asked another player during the game how he was doing."
Humber's unfortunate exit put extra burden on Chicago's bullpen.
The Indians did what they could to take advantage of the situation. In the fourth inning, Matt LaPorta sent a pitch from Sox reliever Zach Stewart to deep left-center-field for a two-run homer that put the Indians ahead, 2-1. Fukudome's triple off reliever Will Ohman came during a two-run burst that put Chicago down for good, 4-2.
"The guys are starting to come around again," Perez said.
At the right time, too.
"We'll just try to continue to play good baseball like we have been," Acta said. "Let the chips fall where they may."