Justin Masterson handled New York’s power-packed lineup for 6 2-3 innings and Michael Brantley hit a three-run homer as the Cleveland Indians snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Yankees on Saturday night.
For the second time this month, Masterson (10-11) ended a long skid for the Indians, whose stunning second-half collapse has dropped them from playoff contention. On Aug. 8, Masterson beat Minnesota and stopped Cleveland’s 11-game slide, one loss shy of the club record.
“He’s our go-to guy whenever we’re going through tough times,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He’ll get us out of it. He’s our guy.”
Brantley homered in the first inning off Hiroki Kuroda (12-9), and the Indians, who were just 3 games out of first place on July 26, won for only the fifth time in 27 games.
Cleveland is 5-18 in August, a month that has felt like a year.
“It’s been rough,” said closer Chris Perez, who worked the ninth for his 33rd save. “I’ve never been through something like this. I was here in 2010, when we were pretty brutal — but we were brutal all year. To go from competing to all of a sudden three weeks later … it was just a free-fall.”
Masterson, roughed up by Oakland in his previous start, allowed one run and seven hits. He walked two, struck out six and worked his way out of a major mess in the sixth, when the Yankees loaded the bases with none out and were a hit away from either tying the game or taking the lead.
“It happens,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “Our guys had pretty good at-bats. We weren’t able to get that big hit.”
With the victory, the Indians avoided becoming the first team since the Kansas City Royals in 2006 to have two losing streaks of at least 10 games in the same season.
Vinnie Pestano replaced Masterson in the seventh, inheriting two runners with two outs. Pestano walked Robinson Cano to load the bases before breaking Mark Teixeira’s bat on a popup.
Perez pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Derek Jeter for the final out.
The colorful closer punctuated the strikeout with a fist pump, and moments later, the Indians lined up in the infield to exchange high-fives and celebrate a rare win.
“It’s nice to smile after the game. It’s been a rough month, a very rough month,” Acta said. “We’re looking forward to turning things around and see some of our kids get out there and make some impact on the games we have left.”
Despite their fifth loss in six road games, the AL East-leading Yankees remained 3 games ahead of Tampa Bay, which lost 4-2 to Oakland.
Kuroda gave up Brantley’s homer in the first, but shut out Cleveland on just four hits over the next seven innings. It was his fifth career complete game and first loss when going all the way.
Masterson coasted through five innings, allowing just three hits and holding a 3-0 lead.
But the Yankees had him on the ropes in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with none out on two singles and a walk. Teixeira’s sacrifice fly to deep center made it 3-1, and Masterson walked Curtis Granderson to refill the bases. However, Masterson got Eric Chavez on a liner to third and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo ran down Russell Martin’s drive at the warning track.
As the ball left his bat, Martin thought it would clear Choo’s head.
“I did at first, but the ball just died and he was there,” Martin said. “I thought I struck it better than that, but obviously I didn’t.”
Masterson got the first two outs in the seventh, but gave up consecutive singles to Jeter and Nick Swisher. Acta pulled Masterson, who got a loud ovation from the crowd of 34,374 — nearly half of them Yankees fans — as he left the field. Fortunately for the Indians, this time their bullpen didn’t let them down.
In their previous 22 losses, the Indians had the lead at some point in nine of them but their relievers blew some games in the late innings.
NOTES: Jeter has a .366 career average at Progressive Field — his highest at any ballpark. He went 2 for 5 and leads the majors with 173 hits. … Girardi expects LHP Andy Pettitte to appear in another major league game this season. Pettitte has been on the disabled list with a broken left ankle since June 28. He threw in the outfield before the game and is scheduled to visit Dr. Chris Ahmad on Monday in New York. … The Indians are optimistic 3B Lonnie Chisenhall will return before the season ends. He broke his right arm when he was hit by a pitch June 29 and underwent surgery. Acta said Chisenhall will take on-field batting practice Monday.