Masterson, Brantley key Indians’ third straight series win

CLEVELAND — The games have been so wacky lately that the big picture sometimes gets lost.

OK, calling it the big picture might be overstating things a bit.

So let’s call it the little picture inside the big picture that’s gotten lost.

Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Kansas City was the Indians’ second in a row after the Royals had won the opening game of the series. It followed the Indians winning two of three from Washington, and two of three from the Rangers in Texas (a place the Indians have struggled to win at all in recent years).

Through some missed pop-ups and wild pitches that scored runs, the Indians have won six of nine, and have won three series in a row for the first time since they won four in a row from April 30-May 12.

The Indians won all three series by winning the third game of each, twice bouncing back after losing the first and once bouncing back after losing in the most painful of ways in the second (that would be the game officially known as the “missed popup in foul territory” game).

Resilience?

Inconsistency?

Mediocrity?

Perhaps, to be determined.

Because the Indians do not seem to have defined themselves this season. They win 18 of 22, then lose 16 of 20. Now they’ve taken two of three from three different teams.

Perhaps the most important stat for the Indians, though, is this one: 27-14. That’s the Indians’ record this season when the starting pitcher lasts at least six innings.

Wednesday it was (again) Justin Masterson’s turn. He was able to keep Kansas City out of big innings even though the Royals had nine hits.

Mark Reynolds’ snag of a line drive in the fourth saved two runs, and Masterson was able to limit the Royals to two runs in 6 1/3 innings.

Masterson improved to 9-5 overall, and at home improved to 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Masterson has grown into the Indians’ clear ace this season.

“No question about it,” Michael Brantley said. “When our ace throws, we got to win those games.”

“There’s an expectation that he’s going to go deep in the game and give you a chance to win every time,” manager Terry Francona said.

Because Masterson was able to hold the Royals to two runs, the Indians were able to be patient. They survived four hitless innings, and then when Brantley hit a 2-2 pitch into the right-field seats, the Indians were suddenly one run away from tying the game.

That happened in the sixth on a Mike Aviles single to the track that ticked off the glove of Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon. A few hitters later, Brantley was in the same situation he was the night before: Up with the bases loaded in a tie game against left-hander Tim Collins. For the second night in a row, Brantley drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

Brantley still is hitless against Collins in 10 at-bats, but he’ll take the sacrifice flies.

“It’s all about getting that run in from third,” Brantley said.

In the eighth, Brantley completed a productive night by hitting his second home run. Not only did Brantley have the first multi-homer game of his career, he doubled his home run total for the season.

“He can give you a quality at-bat against any pitcher in the league,” Francona said, calling Brantley “a professional hitter.”

Professional at-bats and a professional start won this game for the Indians, who know that to be a professional team they must avoid the lengthy downturn they had in May.

Two nights after dropping into third place in the AL Central, they moved 1.5 games ahead of the Royals and back into second — 2.5 behind Detroit.

Francona talked about how it would be fun to see what kind of hitter Brantley develops into. Brantley said it would be fun to see what happens the rest of the season with a team that seems to genuinely believe in each other.

“There’s a lot baseball still left to be played,” said Brantley. “I just look forward to being a part of it.”