CLEVELAND — The Indians’ never-day-die attitude was on display again Sunday at Progressive Field.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Twins didn’t quit, either.
The Indians battled back on numerous occasions in the rubber match of a three-game series with Minnesota, but still fell 10-7 in front of 13,104 fans.
Cleveland was down early thanks to a brief and ineffective outing from its ace Justin Masterson, who lasted just 3⅔ innings and allowed six runs (five earned) on seven hits, three walks and two hit batters.
“He wasn’t commanding very well,” manager Terry Francona said. “Saying that, there wasn’t a lot of hard contact. They made him throw a lot of pitches. He was in and out of the zone more than he’s been normally.
“He threw almost 100 pitches in less than four innings. That’s kind of an indication right there that it wasn’t easy.”
Masterson hit two batters within the first two innings, allowing two runs in the second before surrendering three more in the third on three hits, two walks and a pivotal throwing error on catcher Yan Gomes.
The right-hander, who was masterful on Opening Day in Oakland, allowed another run on the fourth and left with the Indians trailing 6-2.
“I just couldn’t find the zone very well,” said Masterson, who worked his shortest outing since April 2012. “It seemed like it was one of those days in general on both sides. You want to make some adjustments, and it just didn’t happen. It all just led back to not getting in the strike zone.”
On the ropes with their ace in the showers, the Indians battled back with three runs in the fourth — all of them coming on a bases-loaded double from Jason Kipnis — to pull within a run.
Cleveland tied it at 6 on an RBI double from David Murphy in the fifth inning, but that’s where the comeback trail ended.
Reliever Blake Wood came in to preserve the tie and wound up allowing three runs that tipped the scales in Minnesota’s favor for good.
Like Masterson, Wood struggled with command, walking two (one intentional) and hitting a batter before Chris Colabello cleared the bases with a double that left the Twins on top 9-6.
“That was a tough inning,” Francona said. “We’re trying to get out of there with none and you give up multiple runs. That hurts, because we had just clawed back into it.
“I thought we clawed back really well. That’s not easy to do. I thought we swung the bats pretty well.”
The Indians actually outhit the Twins 15-9, but big hits in the clutch continued to elude them. Through its first six games, Cleveland is batting just .191 (13-for-68) with runners in scoring position. The Indians went 3-for-16 Sunday and left 12 on base.
Murphy broke out of his season-starting slump, collecting four hits. He was one of five Indians with multi-hit games. Michael Brantley had three hits.
“It was a good showing,” Murphy said. “We know what we’re capable of and that was more like it today. Hopefully we can build some momentum. It felt great. It’s kind of been up and down (for me) for a while.
“We had runners all over the bases today. On good days, that’s probably going to happen a lot. Hopefully, it’s pretty consistent like that.”
Cleveland was forced to play from behind for the fifth time this season. Much of the deficits have been generated by a lack of command from the rotation, which outside of Masterson’s debut has produced poor results.
Still, it’s too early for Francona to start worrying about his starting staff.
“I don’t think we get discouraged that easily,” he said. “I don’t think that you start to give up on your guys on April 6. I’m not saying that we don’t want to do better regardless of when it is in the year, but I think you can rush to judgment and miss out on some really good players.”
The ninth inning featured a historical event with the first use of Major League Baseball’s expanded replay at Progressive Field.
Francona challenged a play at home, feeling as though Trevor Plouffe missed the plate on a slide to score on a sacrifice fly to Murphy in right. The call was confirmed, securing the Twins’ final run.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or email@example.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.