CLEVELAND — Prior to the series finale with Baltimore on Monday night, Indians manager Manny Acta scoffed at the notion that his team was about to play its biggest game of the season.
After Cleveland turned back Baltimore 3-1 to snap a four-game losing skid and avoid the four-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles, Acta admitted the victory came with added significance.
“After you lose three in a row, every game is huge, because you want to cut off that losing streak,” said Acta, whose team won for just the third time in 10 games to return to .500. “You start by winning one, and that’s how things can change in a heartbeat.”
Much of the credit for the reversal of fortunes goes to Cleveland ace Justin Masterson, who worked a sparkling outing to get his club back on track.
The right-hander didn’t allow a run until the fifth inning, surrendering just the one on seven hits, while striking out six over 7 1/3 innings, to get his seventh win in 21 starts.
“Masterson did a tremendous job,” Acta said. “He did what we expect our No. 1 guy to do — go out and shut down the opposition.”
Masterson (7-8, 4.12 ERA) resurrected the skid-stopper role he filled quite well last year, winning for the fifth time in his last eight starts.
“You always want to take that opportunity when it’s there,” Masterson said. “‘Just give me two (runs), boys, and we’ll try to get it done.’ The biggest thing is to just go out there and pitch your game.
“I had good movement in the zone for the most part. Getting double plays is also nice.”
Masterson was aided by another quality effort from his fielders, with Johnny Damon chasing down a couple fly balls and the Indians turning three double plays behind him. All three of the double-play balls ended innings.
“The defense has been there all season,” Acta said. “It’s something we can’t complain about. It’s been huge.”
Shin-Soo Choo’s two-run home run off Orioles starter Tommy Hunter scored the first runs of the game in the third inning.
Baltimore scored its first run on a two-out double from No. 9 hitter Omar Quintanillia to close to within 2-1 in the fifth.
The Orioles threatened again in the eighth, putting a runner aboard with one out against Masterson, who departed in favor of setup man Vinnie Pestano.
Pestano surrendered a would-be game-tying double to the first batter he faced, Endy Chavez, but Nick Markakis rounded third base too far and was caught in a rundown.
Pestano used a nasty slider to strike out Jim Thome for the final out of the inning, with an RBI single from Michael Brantley in the bottom half, providing closer Chris Perez an insurance run in the ninth.
Perez retired the side in order to earn his 27th save in 29 chances.
“Once Pestano and Perez come in, there’s a good chance we’re going to win, and that was the story tonight,” Acta said.
Cleveland is 28-3 when both Pestano and Perez and appear.
Next up for the Indians is a substantial three-game series at Progressive Field against Central Division-leading Detroit. Cleveland trails the Tigers by four games, and the second-place White Sox by three games.
They enter the series on a positive note.
“It was an extremely important win,” Pestano said of the sweep-stopping victory. “You’ve got the Tigers coming in for three. It’s going to be a fun series. I think we’re a lot better equipped for it after a win.”
The Indians entered the season on a 10-game losing skid to the Tigers, but have reversed the trend this year, winning five of six meetings.
“We like Detroit,” Masterson said. “We usually play pretty good.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.