Indians, Brantley battle back to defeat Royals 6-3
Tribe moves above the .500 mark as Masterson notches win number nine
Things couldn’t get any smoother for the Indians on Wednesday.
Coming from behind to win for the second-straight night, Cleveland (35-34) defeated the Royals 6-3 to take the three-game series over their division rivals. The victory moves the Tribe above the .500 mark for the first time since June 6.
The Indians would get yet another solid pitching performance ace Justin Masterson (9-5, 3.48 ERA) as the right-hander allowed just two runs on nine hits through 6 1/3 innings.
“The day he pitches, we feel pretty good,” Francona said of his ace. “He’s earned that for us to feel that way. His consistency with his stuff this year has been tremendous.”
Masterson battled early on, as the Royals made him throw 45 pitches through the first two innings, but he never gave in late in the ballgame.
The Royals offense struck first for the third time this series on a RBI single by second baseman Elliot Johnson in the fourth off Masterson. Kansas City quickly made it 2-0 one inning later in the fifth on David Lough’s two-out RBI base hit down the left field line.
Lough, drafted by the Royals in 2007 out of Mercyhurst College, finished the night 3-for-4 and went 6-for-12 in the series.
Just as they did Tuesday night, the Indians battled back after a slow start against Royals starter Luis Mendoza (2-4, 4.30 ERA). Offensively, Cleveland was held without a hit until the fifth, as Mendoza no-hit the Wahoos through four innings.
That all changed thanks to the man they call Dr. Smooth as left fielder Michael Brantley knocked the first run and hit of the game on a solo home run to leadoff the fifth.
“Once Brantley hit that homer it kind of made everyone relax a little bit,” first baseman Mark Reynolds said. “Getting our first hit and first run made us put some quality at-bats together.”
After starting out slow against Mendoza, the Tribe offense didn't allow him to finish the sixth. The team sent nine men to the plate in the home half of the sixth en route to a three-run inning that put the Indians up for the first time all night.
Shortstop Mike Aviles got the rally started with an RBI single after Mendoza allowed the first two Tribe hitters in the inning to reach base. Jason Kipnis executed a bunt base hit down the left field line before Mendoza walked Carlos Santana with the bases loaded to tie the game at two.
Left-hander Tim Collins relieved Mendoza but couldn’t stop Dr. Smooth from making his presence known again, as Brantley hit a sacrifice fly off Collins to give the Indians their first lead of the game.
Brantley ended a career night in the eighth, sending his second long ball of the game to the seats in right field. It was his first multi-homer game in his career for the 26-year-old.
“It’s awesome,” Brantley said. “I’m not going to lie, it put a smile on my face. I don’t show too much emotion, but I smiled after that one.”
Brantley’s first home run snapped a 0-for-13 skid, doubling his home run total on the season on just one night.
“The last thing we ever do with anybody is talk about trying to pull the ball or hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Francona said. “It’s going to be fun to see where it takes him [Brantley], if he’s a .300 hitter, or he grows into more power, or both. The good thing is he’s a very professional hitter, you can hit him anywhere in the lineup he balances out our lineup.”
Bryan Shaw relieved Masterson pitching a scoreless 1 2/3 innings before Francona turned to Joe Smith in the ninth. Although the sidearm reliever gave up a run, he still breezed through the inning for the 6-3 win.
The victory moves Masterson to 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA in nine starts at Progressive Field.
“It’s probably because I get to hang out with my wife and daughter before the game,” Masterson said of his home/road splits. “It just seems to work out. I don’t know what the science is behind it, but the bad games have come on the road.”
The right-hander now has 110 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings and is on pace to strikeout well more than 200 batters for the first time in his career.
“It’s fun to watch,” Francona said. “Again, I got to try not getting caught up in how fond I am of him when he’s pitching. When he comes off the mound I’m always smiling. It’s hard not to.”
The win also gives the right-hander his team-high ninth victory, something he did not accomplish until August 13 of last season.
“All of our starters have been throwing so well,” Brantley said. “Masterson’s our ace, there’s no question about it. When our ace throws we got to win those games and he threw great tonight.”
Despite being just one game above the .500 mark, the Tribe have now won three straight series and now move to 3 1/2 games in back of first place in the AL Central.
“If you look at our last six games, we’ve had a chance to win them all,” Reynolds said. “To win four out of six and keep winning series, you’re going to win more than you lose. That’s everyone’s goal is to take two out of three and move on.”
Although they have drawn the least amount of fans in all of baseball, the Indians are now 22-14 at Progressive Field and 20-8 at their home ballpark since April 30.
Notes: Closer Chris Perez threw long toss during batting practice on Wednesday. Giving up five runs on five hits in his second rehab outing on Tuesday at Double-A Akron, Perez will throw a bullpen session on Friday. Still no word on when he will be activated from the 15-Day DL….First baseman Nick Swisher will take batting practice with the team on Friday and if all goes well, he will make his return to the Tribe lineup on Saturday against Minnesota.
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