CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson is human after all. Turns out, the Indians are, too.
Masterson, who was off to a brilliant start with a perfect 5-0 record and sparkling 2.11 ERA in his first seven outings of the season, finally showed some flaws Thursday afternoon.
His sub par effort, coupled with an overall dismal display from his teammates, spelled a 7-4 defeat for the Indians, who lost the rubber match of a three-game series against Tampa Bay in front of an 18,107 matinee crowd at Progressive Field.
“We didn’t play very good baseball, not good enough to win the ballgame, that’s for sure,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose team was shut out on four hits over the first five innings and had two runners picked off bases in its fifth loss in eight games.
Masterson set the early negative tone for the Indians, allowing four of his five runs on the day in the second inning.
He walked Evan Longoria to lead off the inning, then allowed hits to three of the next four batters, capped by a two-run double from Reid Brignac. A two-out two-run single from Sam Fuld scored the other two runs.
“The second inning, I just kind of got behind. That’s when they really hurt us,” said Masterson, who allowed five runs on eight hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings. “There were a lot of balls that just missed. I kept it to that one inning. My execution was a little off today.
“It’s unfortunate. It would have been nice to get the victory and win the series.”
The four runs Masterson allowed in the second was more than he had allowed in any of his previous starts.
“Masterson really struggled with his command,” Acta said. “He just had a tough time repeating his delivery. We know he’s not going to be perfect the whole season. He just had an off day.”
With a second straight top-shelf starter on the mound for Tampa Bay in right-hander James Shields (4-1, 2.08 ERA), the Indians needed much more from Masterson.
Working a similar outing to that of rotation mate David Price’s the night before, Shields stifled Cleveland hitters over the first half of the game, while his team built a substantial lead.
Shields allowed two runs over seven innings, both of them coming in the sixth with the Indians trailing 5-0. He gave up seven hits and struck out seven.
“It’s tough to play catch up baseball against anybody,” Acta said. “It makes it tougher when it’s against guys like Price and Shields. (Shields) has that equalizer in the change-up. It’s one of the best in the game.”
The Indians’ base running was some of the worst. With opportunities scarce against Shields, both Michael Brantley (first base, third inning) and Orlando Cabrera (second base, sixth inning) were picked off.
“Play, play and learn,” Acta said of the inexperienced Brantley. “When you’re down four runs, it’s not a good idea to get picked off.”
Television replays appeared to show that Orlando Cabrera was safe on his slide back to second. It was one of two plays at second base that had Acta considering extending video replays beyond home run reviews.
“For the first time, the purist side of me has left a little bit,” Acta said. “As much as I hate (extending) it, I’m going to have to start defending it.
“I know we’re human, but if the human side is going to make errors like that. I’m not there yet, but my human element is pushing me a little bit.”
Prior to the three-game series, Progressive Field was not a friendly place for the Rays, who came in with just two wins in their last 20 games in Cleveland.
Tampa Bay wound up snapping the Indians’ home winning streak at 14 games Wednesday night, while handing Cleveland its first series loss at home since a season-opening three-game set against the White Sox.
“It’s two games,” said Masterson, whose team still sits atop the Central Division standings with the best record in the American League (23-13). “If we just stick to losing two games every once in a while, I’ll take that.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.