Masterson's effort wasted in Indians' loss
Right-hander trips up Yankees, but bullpen stumbles late
NEW YORK -- Justin Masterson was still genial following the Indians' 7-3 loss to the Yankees on Sunday, focusing on the bright spots of yet another start that didn't end with a win.
"What can you do?" Masterson said with a smile. "You're going to catch some breaks, and you're going to not."
Masterson, of course, hasn't caught the breaks in a long time. He has not won since Aug. 20, 2009 -- a span of 17 starts. The Indians are just 2-15 in those games.
It looked for a while that Masterson was on his way toward earning that elusive second win in a Cleveland uniform. The right-hander, who entered the day with an ERA in excess of six and his rotation spot tenuous, was brilliant in holding down the American League's best offense. A late-inning bullpen letdown and his final line -- three runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings -- belied just how dominant Masterson was for much of the afternoon.
A small mechanical adjustment that helped Masterson repeat his delivery and regularly stay on top of the ball paid immediate dividends. He flummoxed the Yankees all day with his sinker, slider and changeup, inducing a plethora of swings over the top of the ball. Masterson finished the day with eight strikeouts (all swinging) and a total of 16 swinging strikes. That's the most swings-and-misses he's collected in a game all season and the second-most in his career. A double-digit total in swinging strikes has been the common theme in Masterson's better outings this season.
"It keeps me on top of the ball," Masterson said of the mechanical adjustment, which he said he couldn't really explain. "I felt before we were dropping down at times a little more than we had. This is definitely a much better job of control than we've had so far."
Indeed, Masterson walked only one and went to a three-ball count to just two other hitters.
Masterson's outing and the Indians' hold on the game, however, went awry in the seventh inning, which has been the relevant frame throughout this series. Nick Swisher led it off with a single up the middle, and Brett Gardner bounced an infield single behind second base that danced around the glove of Masterson on the mound.
Masterson struck out pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli for the second out and got ahead of Derek Jeter, 0-2. After Gardner stole second on ball one, though, Jeter lined a single into right-center to plate two and end Masterson's afternoon.
"I was trying to get another sinker in, and I kind of crossed it to the middle of the plate down. Jeter, I was hoping he'd bounce out to the second baseman or something, please," Masterson said. "Of course, he did what he's supposed to do. That's why he's a great player."
Tony Sipp then endured his second brutal outing of the series, yielding a double to Curtis Granderson for the second time in as many appearances and serving up a go-ahead, three-run homer to left to Mark Teixeira. Much like Robinson Cano's grand slam off Sipp on Friday, Teixeira's blast came on a slider that hung in the middle of the plate.
"I don't know what it did," Sipp said. "It couldn't have moved too much."
The Yankees tacked on two more in the eighth off of Jensen Lewis, who was called back up from Triple-A Columbus earlier in the day.
The Indians needed Masterson to be every bit as good as he was because their own bats were stymied by A.J. Burnett. Burnett brought his best stuff to the ballpark on Sunday. With command of his fastball and a sharp break on his knuckle-curve, Burnett held the Tribe to three runs (one earned) on five hits in eight innings. He struck out eight Indians, five of them on his distinctive offspeed pitch.
"He has really good stuff," manager Manny Acta said. "Today he had that good fastball and that wicked breaking ball that when he got ahead in the count, he was able to make our guys chase it."
What offense Cleveland did muster against Burnett came from the bottom of the order. Lou Marson scored on a Trevor Crowe single in the third before Luis Valbuena scored on a Jeter error and Marson came around on a Jason Donald triple in the seventh. Marson and Donald have combined for six hits, four runs and six RBIs in the last two games from the eighth and ninth spots in the order. Crowe had his second straight two-hit game out of the leadoff position.
But at the end of the day, the Indians -- and Masterson in particular -- bemoaned the what-ifs of another game they let slip away.
"Man, we were right there," Masterson said. "It was close, but unfortunately, we had that end."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.