MINNEAPOLIS -- These are suddenly trying times for the Tribe. The Indians were riding an emotional high just two days ago, but now it feels like the ballclub is trying to stop the bottom from falling out on its season.
On Saturday night, Cleveland absorbed a 12-5 loss at the hands of the Twins, who have moved out of the American League Central cellar and into fourth place by taking the first two in this three-game set at Target Field. Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson was pummeled and Minnesota rookie Samuel Deduno fashioned a gem.
"They beat us up again," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
The loss came one day after Cleveland was routed 11-0 by Minnesota, which had scored just 10 runs in its previous three games combined. It marked the 10th defeat in the past 15 games for the Indians, who are doing all they can to avoid falling further out of the AL Central race.
The Indians appeared poised to make a push up the standings earlier this week when the club took two out of three and a dramatic series win over the second-place Tigers in Cleveland. The Tribe had hoped to carry the success of that meeting with Detroit into Minnesota.
"These two games are not exactly the way you wanted things to happen," Masterson said. "But it doesn't mean we're done or out of it."
The third-place Tribe now sits a season-high 5 1/2 games behind the Central-leading White Sox, who defeated the Rangers on Saturday and then announced that they acquired pitcher Francisco Liriano in a trade with the Twins. The non-waiver Trade Deadline looms at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and Cleveland is currently weighing its options.
A primary issue to this point -- one that might be addressed with a trade -- has been inconsistency in the starting rotation. Masterson provided the latest example.
"He just struggled closing innings out," Acta said. "A couple of bad calls went against him, but still, you have to close the inning out. He just couldn't make pitches when he had to and they got some big hits. It seemed like every time they got a hit it was with traffic on the bases."
Following three perfect innings, during which he created seven groundball outs, Masterson ran into trouble and came unraveled over the next three frames. When the smoke cleared, Masterson had surrendered 10 runs (eight earned) on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out two, walked two and hit one batter.
After retiring the first 11 Minnesota hitters he faced, Masterson issued a two-out walk to Joe Mauer in the fourth. Twins slugger Josh Willingham followed by drilling a 2-2 offering for a two-run home run, his 27th blast of the season for Minnesota. The shot came one pitch after a called ball on a pitch that looked like strike three on Willingham.
"It was definitely close, in my own mind," Masterson said. "[Home-plate umpire Bill Welke] said he had it away. It was close, but you have to come back and make another pitch."
Another controversial call came at the start of a three-run outburst by the Twins in the fifth inning. With one out, Tribe third baseman Jack Hannahan gloved a chopper off the bat of Danny Valencia and fired to first baseman Casey Kotchman. The throw forced Kotchman to shift across the bag, and first-base umpire Chris Guccione ruled Valencia safe.
Hannahan was charged with an error, but the replay clearly showed that Kotchman kept his foot on the bag before Valencia reached the base. Brian Dozier followed with a single, Alexi Casilla added a two-run triple and Ben Revere later singled home another run to push the Twins to a 5-1 advantage.
"That was an out. Not even close," Acta said. "They're human. He blew the call completely and it cost us three runs. But, they scored 12, so it wasn't [first-base umpire] Chris Guccione's fault that we didn't win the game."
Regardless, it was a tough turn of events.
"It's frustrating," Hannahan said. "It was a high hopper. I stayed back on it and kind of rushed the throw. Casey made a great play and stayed on the base and we didn't get the call. That led to three runs. When things are going bad, that's the kind of stuff that happens."
The wheels came off for Masterson in the sixth, when he was charged with five more runs.
Deduno picked up the win after holding the Indians to one run on two hits over seven innings. His lone blemish came in the first inning, when Shin-Soo Choo led off with a single and later crossed home plate on a groundout from Carlos Santana. In the eighth inning, Santana added a two-run homer off Twins reliever Tyler Robertson.
Cleveland then rallied for two more runs in the ninth, when Twins reliever Luis Perdomo loaded the bases with two outs. A throwing error by Valencia at third base paved the way for the Tribe's first run in the inning and Jason Kipnis followed with a bases-loaded walk to cut Minnesota's lead to 12-5. That was where the Indians' last-ditch push ended.
"Offensively, we couldn't do anything up until the end," Acta said. "They just flat-out out-played us these two games."
That does not mean the Indians are ready to pack it in, though.
"We're still not playing the best and we're still right there," Masterson said. "One of these days it's going to come together for everybody. We're all going to kind of hit a streak, or we're going to put a couple together both offensively and pitching wise, and I think that's going to take us to a good spot.
"We just really haven't hit any of that this year. It's bound to happen. Plus, in the Central, we're close. Everything is close right there."