Master of his craft
Indians righty silences Red Sox
CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson, as tall as he is nice, made an immediate impression on the Red Sox when he was brought up in 2008. He was affable. His wife baked cookies for his teammates. And he became an excellent eighth-inning setup man down the stretch, bridging the gap to Jonathan Papelbon and helping the Sox reach the American League Championship Series.
And then he was gone, shipped to Cleveland in a trade that brought Victor Martinez to Boston. The Midwest hadn’t been kind to Masterson, who only recently emerged from a stretch in which he lost 11 straight decisions as an Indian. But last night, with the team that drafted him in town, Masterson made the most of his sinker, keeping the ball and the Red Sox down in an 11-0 win at Progressive Field.
“All the things we used to brag about when he was in our uni form, he showed it tonight,’’ Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He maintained his velocity from the first pitch to the last pitch. He threw a lot of strikes. He stayed down in the zone. He elevated a couple of times, I’m sure on purpose. Changed speeds enough on the lefties, got the slider under their hands. That’s about as good a game as you can pitch.’’
It was a night when Masterson stifled the Sox over nine innings, while outdueling Clay Buchholz.
His two-seamer was sensational, holding the Sox to just two hits and just five balls to the outfield, including a pair of singles. Check that out again: Masterson got just three fly ball outs to go along with 18 ground ball outs and six strikeouts. The 6-foot-6-inch righthander didn’t let a single runner make it past first base.
Masterson blew through the Boston lineup with ruthless efficiency, even though it was stacked with lefthanders — who had hit .360 and slugged .504 off Masterson this season. The strategy didn’t work.
“If he just keeps on throwing the ball the way he was tonight, I don’t think lefties are going to give him any more of a hard time,’’ said David Ortiz. “Seriously, he was throwing the ball really good. Some of the best I have ever seen him.’’
“He used his fastball a lot,’’ said Martinez. “He throws pretty hard, big heavy sinker. It’s not easy. He throws it over the plate, sometimes it just drops. As a hitter, you’ve got to make him throw the ball up, but he was throwing knee bottom, and he was pounding the zone.’’
Masterson was clearly enjoying himself and he wasn’t overwhelmed by facing his former teammates.
“Once you get out there on the field, for me it’s kind of like game time,’’ Masterson said. “Half the time the battle is between myself and myself rather than the batter. You notice the guys who are coming up, you know who they are, you’re familiar with them. For me, you have to continue to attack.’’
He did. Still, the game remained close until two relievers — Boof Bonser and Joe Nelson — let it get out of control in an eight-run eighth inning that saw the Indians bat around before the Sox got an out, and included a Travis Hafner grand slam. Buchholz, even with some command issues, allowed just three runs on three hits over seven innings, though he did walk four.
“First four innings, all I could throw for a strike was a fastball,’’ said Buchholz. “Felt like I threw some good offspeed pitches, they were just down in the zone and they didn’t swing at them, forced me to get in a couple fastball counts, and knowing that I didn’t throw a whole lot of strikes with offspeed stuff, tried to make my fastball a little bit better, and missed location a couple times, walked some people. If I don’t walk anybody, we still might be playing out there.’’
But ultimately, he allowed too much, as the Indians scored on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, on a double play in the third, and a wild pitch in the fourth.
“I don’t think he was commanding very well,’’ Francona said of Buchholz. “I don’t think he got to the 50 percent strike mark till about the fifth inning. He didn’t command his pitches like he’s been. To his credit, he gave up three single runs. I don’t think tonight was his best stuff — he was fighting his command all night . . . he hung in there and actually did a pretty good job.’’
But Masterson pitched better, besting perhaps the best pitcher in baseball over the last month (Buchholz was 5-0 with a 0.99 ERA). It was another sign of a potential emergence for Masterson, as he continued his upward progress, getting just his third win in the 11 months since he came to the Indians.
“He was on. He had his stuff working,’’ Buchholz said. “A guy like that’s hard to hit whenever he’s throwing 88 to 96 [miles per hour] with the movement he has. He was working quick, forcing guys to swing the bat and forcing them to swing the bat at pitches that he wanted them to swing at instead of the reverse.’’
It wasn’t what the Sox wanted to see. As Francona said before the game, “I saw him [Tuesday]. Told him I hope we beat his brains out, and then after we leave, I hope he wins every game he pitches.’’
Francona added after the game, “I don’t think he listened to me.’’