Cy Young himself wouldn’t want to mess with the Indians right now.
Justin Masterson struck out a season-high 11 in seven shutout innings and Michael Brantley hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs off Felix Hernandez as Cleveland toppled yet another former Cy Young Award winner on Sunday with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Brantley connected in the second inning off Hernandez (5-3), who failed to go at least six innings for the first time this season.
The Indians, who improved to 17-4 since April 28, are 7-1 this season against Cy Young recipients. They’ve knocked off Hernandez, R.A. Dickey, David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon and Justin Verlander. The Indians are taking pride in knocking off trophy-winning pitchers.
”We just take it as a challenge,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. ”We’ve got that scrappy-type and gritty-type of team. It may not always be pretty, man, but somehow we’re going to find a way to get it done. We just love coming to the ballpark right now.
”Things are rocking,” Swisher said.
Before the game, Brantley said the Indians talked about taking down another trophy-winning pitcher.
”We’re loose and we’re not holding nothing back,” Brantley said. ”Everybody has smiles on their faces. We just want to make sure we enjoy this. We’re playing great baseball right now and we just want to keep it up.”
Staked to an early lead, Masterson (7-2) was dominant for the second straight start. He allowed three singles, easily outdueled Hernandez and ran his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 19. He shut out the New York Yankees 1-0 on four hits in his previous outing.
”From the very first pitch of the game he came out firing,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. ”He was not only firing, but he was pitching. He was using both sides of the plate. He was using a two-seamer, four-seamer, throwing breaking balls to both sides of the plate. He kept going up, down, in, out. He worked ahead.”
The AL Central-leading Indians are a baseball-best 20-7 since April 20.
”We’ve got a good thing going in here,” Swisher said. ”We’ve got a lot of confident, excited guys and we’re going out and proving that.”
Following walkoff wins in the first two games of the series, Cleveland took the drama out of this one early, building a 5-0 lead after two innings against Hernandez.
The 2010 Cy Young winner, who left his previous start after six innings with back stiffness, came in with the league’s lowest ERA (1.53) but it rose to 2.07 after he gave up six runs and eight hits in five innings. Hernandez struck out eight, including the final three batters, but he was wasn’t on his game — and neither were the Mariners.
Seattle was only charged with one error, but the Mariners made several mental mistakes that helped the Indians.
”You’re going to have games like that when a couple of things happen and you make a couple of mistakes,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. ”That’s what happened to us. It was one of those days for Felix and one of those days for us.”
It’s not like Masterson needed much help.
The big right-hander overpowered the Mariners, who couldn’t catch up to his 97 mph fastball and only had two runners reach second base against him. The Indians were hoping Masterson could develop into their ace, and so far this season he’s been the dependable front-of-the-rotation starter they desperately needed.
”His stuff is dominant,” Francona said. ”He’s been consistent, but consistent at a level with his velocity, breaking ball, ability to hold runners. He’s just done everything.”
Pitching with a six-run lead, he got stronger as the game progressed. He struck out five of the last six batters he faced and fanned seven in the last three innings.
Last season was a struggle for Masterson, who went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA.
So what’s he doing better?
”Everything,” he said, laughing.
Brantley’s three-run homer with two outs in the second gave the Indians a 5-0 lead over Hernandez.
The right-hander, who needed 35 pitches to get through the first, retired the first two hitters on groundouts before Michael Bourn singled and went to third on Jason Kipnis’ base hit to center. Brantley then drove an 0-1 pitch into the Indians’ bullpen in center for just his second homer.
It was a stunning development against Hernandez, who came in having allowed just four earned runs in 44 innings over his past six starts.
In the eight starts against the Indians, the former Cy Young winners have a collective 8.21 ERA.
A fundamental gaffe by Hernandez allowed the Indians to add a run in the fourth. With Mike Aviles at second after a double, Drew Stubbs topped a ball into the dirt that catcher Jesus Montero fielded in front of the plate and threw to first for the out. Aviles never slowed coming around third and scored easily because Montero got caught up the line and Hernandez failed to cover home.
”That’s just beautiful right there,” Masterson said. ”Those are the type of things you want to see, and that’s what defines this team and makes it so special.”
NOTES: Cleveland’s starters are 13-4 in the past 21 games. … The Indians are 6-0-4 in their last 10 series. … White Sox RHP Jake Peavy is the only former Cy Young winner to beat the Indians this season. … Masterson is the fifth starter to record double-digit strikeouts against the Mariners in 2013. … The Indians will try to complete the four-game sweep on Monday as the teams conclude their wrap-around series with a matinee. … The Indians are 9-1 against the AL West. … Cleveland has seven shutouts, its most through 42 games since 2008.