CLEVELAND — It’s usually Indians hitters who let down starting pitcher Justin Masterson. Sunday at Progressive Field, the fielders joined the gang.
A pivotal error on rookie center fielder Ezequiel Carrera helped the White Sox to a 4-2 win and Masterson to another hard-luck loss, as the Indians continue to flounder at an inopportune point.
In a pennant race for the first time since 2007, Cleveland has dropped four straight — five consecutive at home — and trail the Tigers by two games in the Central Division standings. The Indians lead the third-place White Sox by just 2 1/2 games, Chicago beating them six times in seven games this season.
Their latest loss was earmarked by a season-high three errors from a normally sound defensive unit, the most costly coming in the sixth inning, when Carrera inexplicably dropped Adam Dunn’s fly ball that scored two runs.
Carrera went back on Dunn’s drive and appeared to have it located before stumbling and watching the ball carom off his glove to give Chicago a 3-1 lead an inning after his two-out single tied the game at one.
“I was right on it, then I stumbled a little bit at the warning track and the ball moved on me a little bit,” Carrera said through an interpreter. “I just missed it. A ball like that with the game on the line, I don’t feel good.”
Carrera, who was also picked off first base after drawing a walk to lead off the opening inning, wasn’t the only one.
Masterson, who allowed just one earned run on four hits over seven innings, was also sideswiped by two errors in the seventh on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Carlos Santana that led to a run and the final count.
“Unfortunately, two of the best defenders on the field (Carrera and Cabrera) for us made errors that really hurt us,” manager Manny Acta said. The way we’re swinging the bats, you can’t be giving teams outs.”
The Indians swung the bats the way they normally do when Masterson is on the mound — or when they are facing Edwin Jackson, who improved to 9-1 lifetime with a 2.72 ERA in 15 games (14 starts against Cleveland).
The Indians have scored two runs or fewer in 10 of Masterson’s 21 starts and have scored one run or been shut out in six of them.
“He’s been phenomenal all season,” said designated hitter Travis Hafner, who had the last of the Indians’ five hits on the day, with a one-out single in the sixth. “Once again, we wasted his effort. I wish we would have played better for him.”
“Masterson was brilliant one more time,” Acta said. “I can’t even remember when he had a rough outing. He’s been so good all season. I’m so proud of him. Last year I had to defend the decision to let him start every fifth day.”
Masterson, who has allowed two or fewer runs in eight of his last nine outings, is fighting the frustration.
“As a team, it was a game we should have won,” he said. “Me, personally, I have to go out and continue to battle. I felt like, for the most part, I did what I could to keep us in the game.
“There’s no time to weep or moan and feel sorry for anybody.”
Jackson’s ERA against Cleveland the lowest of any opposing pitcher since 2006, other than Nick Blackburn’s 2.43 ERA for the Twins. He improved to 5-0 with a 1.70 ERA at Progressive Field, shutting the Indians out on two hits over the first four innings.
“Times like this, when you’re not scoring runs, guys have a tendency to try to do too much,” Hafner said. “We just need to do what we’re capable of doing.
“This is where you want to be (in a pennant race). We just have to play good baseball.”
Some fans who sat through another sweltering day in Cleveland had enough by the eighth inning. They gave Carrera a bronx cheer when he made a routine catch on a fly ball in the top of the inning, then booed All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom when he failed to run to first after Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski dropped a third strike to end the inning.
At 51-48, the injury-depleted Indians are only three games above .500 for the first time since April 8 (5-2).
“We just need to win a ballgame,” Acta said. “That’s all.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.