CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson heard the groan from the crowd after throwing a ball to Red Sox slugger David Ortiz two batters into the sixth inning on Monday night. The Indians starter figured it was simply frustration from the locals over a mislocated pitch.
"I did kind of hear the disappointment," Masterson said. "But I didn't really realize what it was for."
What the sinkerballer did not know at the time was that ball to Big Papi snapped a streak of 25 consecutive strikes in the heart of his overpowering outing. After some early escape acts, Masterson settled into a rhythm, rocking and firing and guiding Cleveland to a 3-2 victory over Boston in the opener of a three-game set at Progressive Field.
For one inning, Masterson was immaculate. For seven, he was dominant.
"For a while there," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "he was throwing all his pitches with a lot of conviction, which is a good sign. I think when you're throwing that many strikes and you're throwing them with all pitches, you're going to be confident."
Masterson gained strength as he moved deeper into his outing, turning in a strong performance that helped Cleveland end Boston's seven-game winning streak. The right-hander flirted with trouble, but ultimately did enough to withstand a late hiccup from the bullpen (Bryan Shaw yielded a two-run home run to Xander Bogaerts in the eighth) and help the Tribe collect its fourth straight win.
The Indians' offense came through early against Boston starter John Lackey, giving Masterson a small cushion to use as he saw fit.
After a leadoff walk to Cleveland center fielder Michael Bourn in the first, Lackey issued a one-out free pass to Michael Brantley. That set things up for hot-hitting Lonnie Chisenhall, who slashed a pitch down the left-field line for a base hit that brought both runners home, giving the Indians a quick 2-0 advantage.
In the third, Bourn led off by slicing a pitch to deep center field, where it sailed beyond the reach of Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Bourn raced around the basepaths for his fifth triple of the season and was then able to jog across the plate on a single to right by Asdrubal Cabrera.
That was all Lackey relinquished in his eight innings for Boston.
"Lackey threw a great game," Francona said. "We scratched a couple early and got another one, and kind of hung on. He's one of the better pitchers right now."
It was not much in the way of support, but it proved sufficient in the end for Masterson. The big sinkerballer showed his appreciation with seven shutout frames, bowing out after 105 pitches (67 strikes) against his former team.
"Just throwing a lot of strikes -- that was the biggest thing," said Masterson, who set a season high with 10 strikeouts. "We were pounding the zone really good, getting good counts for myself, and then had good movement. [The] slider started working really well. Once we got ahead, we used that slider to put a few people away."
Between the first and third innings, Masterson issued four walks and allowed two of his three hits on the evening. It was an early showing that looked similar to the right-hander's previous four outings, during which he posted an 8.84 ERA with 13 walks issued and 25 hits allowed in 18 1/3 innings.
Masterson quickly corrected that trend.
The righty escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the first with a called strikeout of Jonny Gomes and then sidestepped the potential harm of three baserunners between the second and third. From the last batter of the third through the second hitter (Ortiz) of the sixth, Masterson reeled off his 25 consecutive strikes.
"We're grinding all the way through to try to put something together," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "From the fourth through the seventh, there was nothing to be had."
In the fourth, Masterson executed with perfection, turning in a rare immaculate inning. Needing just nine pitches, the right-hander sliced his way through Gomes, Grady Sizemore and Stephen Drew, picking up three strikeouts in a row.
According to research done by the Indians, Masterson is just the 70th known pitcher to turn in a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning and the first to do so in Cleveland's franchise history.
Masterson was not immediately aware of his rare feat.
"I didn't know it was nine pitches," he said. "I knew I punched out the side. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] said, 'I think you should do that every time.' That sounds great. No, in the moment, I didn't realize it. I just realized it was strike, strike, see you."
Given the way things had gone recently for the right-hander, the outing against the Red Sox was certainly welcomed.
"I've felt like I've thrown 25 balls in a row in one game," Masterson said with a laugh. "So, it's nice to throw 25 strikes."