CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson has been more enigma than ace this season for the Indians. Stellar one game and searching the next, the sinkerballer has served as a symbol for Cleveland's historic slide.
That continued to be the case on Thursday afternoon.
"I'm just as perplexed as anybody," Masterson said.
Masterson unraveled and the Tribe limped to a 12-7 loss to the A's at Progressive Field. The Indians' offense finally showed some life, but it was not enough to sidestep a four-game brooming at the hands of a surprising Oakland club that is trying to crash the postseason party.
The defeat was the fifth in a row for the reeling Indians and the 14th in the past 15 games. There is still one game left in August, but Cleveland -- now 5-23 for the month -- has already suffered its highest loss total in a calendar month since going 15-23 in August 1938. The Tribe has not lost 24 in one month since July 1914.
"I've never been through a month like this anywhere," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Not in the Minor Leagues, winter ball or in the big leagues, as a coach or as a manager."
Masterson also cracked the Indians' record book with his latest outing.
He surrendered eight runs on eight hits in four innings, marking the fifth time this season he has given up at least eight runs in an outing. That ties Mel Harder's 1936 club record for games with at least eight runs surrendered.
Masterson's seven starts with at least seven runs allowed this season are the most since Harder had seven outings of that nature, also in 1936. The club record for that dubious feat is nine such games by George Uhle (1924) and Sherry Smith (1925).
It has been a strange season for Masterson, who has pitched on the far ends of the spectrum. Consider that despite his 4.91 ERA and record of outings gone awry, the righty has allowed two runs or fewer in 14 starts and has notched a quality start 16 times this year.
"It's been basically command," Acta said. "Overall, he's been a warrior for us. He hasn't been what we were expecting, or what he was expecting, but he has thrown some good games for us when we've needed him."
Following a breakout 12-win season a year ago, the expectations were that Masterson could develop into an ace. That is why Cleveland honored him with his first career Opening Day start this season.
Oakland, which has won six in a row and currently leads the American League Wild Card race, began its attack on Masterson in the third inning, when Coco Crisp launched a two-out home run to right to pull the game into a 1-1 tie.
One frame later, George Kottaras came through with a three-run double off Masterson and Cliff Pennington followed with a two-run home run. That five-run burst also came with two outs. In the fifth inning, Josh Reddick drilled a two-run home run to help put the Indians in an 8-2 hole.
"I thought I was making some decent pitches today at times," Masterson said. "In the fourth, I'm still not feeling bad. And then it's like one thing goes, a little thing there and somehow it continues. It's unbelievable."
Indians interim pitching coach Ruben Niebla -- ejected from the game in the seventh inning for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Paul Emmel -- said Masterson understands where his mechanics are off.
"Justin is aware of what's happening with his delivery," Niebla said. "It kind of breaks down a little bit. It's something that he works hard at, making sure he stays balanced over the rubber and staying back."
Masterson led Cleveland to its only two wins in the past 16 games, stopping a nine-game losing streak in his last outing. The sinkerballer also helped the Indians end their season-high 11-game losing skid with a victory on Aug. 8. Against the A's, though, Masterson was unable to renew his role as stopper.
The Tribe starter walked two, struck out one and equaled a career worst with three home runs allowed.
"Justin just didn't have it," Acta said.
The performance from Masterson was especially disappointing for the Indians considering their offense woke from a recent slumber. Cleveland's seven runs marked its most since the team plated eight in a loss to Detroit on Aug. 5. The Indians also entered the afternoon with just 15 runs scored in their past 10 games.
A's righty Jarrod Parker worked five-plus innings and allowed five runs, including one on a leadoff homer from Jason Kipnis in the first inning. That blast -- the 13th of the year for the second baseman -- helped Cleveland tie a franchise record with eight leadoff home runs this season. The Indians also had eight in 2008.
Kipnis finished the day 2-for-4 with two RBIs, while Shin-Soo Choo ended 1-for-4 with three RBIs, including two on a base hit in the sixth inning. Jack Hannahan and Lou Marson also drove in runs for the Tribe.
"A bunch of guys, we're happier with the way we did," Kipnis said. "I think we all kind of slowed things down and went back to the first half, where we led the league in walks for a long time. I think we've got to keep that mind-set."
After all, there is still an entire month to go.
"We're ready to put this month away," Kipnis said. "I'm not saying the new month will automatically bring new stuff -- we've still got a lot of work to do. But I think this month, we're ready to be done with it and wash our hands clean of it."