CLEVELAND — Nick Swisher’s cackle preceded him and registered loud and clear as he walked into the postgame interview room Friday night.
Swisher’s single with two out in the ninth had just given the Cleveland Indians and starter Justin Masterson a much-deserved win over Chicago.
Swisher bobbed into the room, smiled, sat down and immediately said: “I’ll give you a whole overview of the game.”
He continued, breaking down the 1-0 victory quite succinctly as the assembled scribes took it in.
“Two stars in that game,” Swisher said. “One, Justin Masterson, aka Nasty Masty, aka Mr. Clean.”
Masterson gave up just five hits and shut out Chicago in a rare (for these days) complete game. Masterson got 24 of 27 outs via ground ball or strikeout, and is on a scoreless inning streak that stands at 19.
“It’s gonna end sometime,” Masterson said.
In a season when some starters have struggled, Masterson is now 3-0, with an ERA of 0.41.
“I could say all you want me to,” manager Terry Francona said. “He threw an obscene amount of strikes (81 in 113 pitches).”
Masterson was throwing so well that Francona never hesitated to send him out for the ninth inning even though he had already topped the 100-pitch mark. He even let him face left-handed power hitter Adam Dunn with two outs.
“That we let him face Dunn in that situation shows how much confidence we have, because we have complete confidence in the bullpen,” Francona said. “I just felt he deserved to pitch.”
Masterson was helped by the weather. It’s tough to hit when it’s 40 degrees, especially when a guy throws a hard sinker the way Masterson does.
“You’re just trying your best to put the barrel on the ball, because if you hit anywhere else you’re not feeling your fingers for a couple innings,” Swisher said of the chill in the air.
Problem for the Indians was that Chicago starter Jose Quintana matched Masterson in his seven innings, giving up only one hit. But unlike Francona, the White Sox went to the bullpen. They got a scoreless eighth from Matt Thornton, then turned to Jesse Crain for the ninth.
With one out, Michael Bourn slapped a bloop double down the left-field line, and advanced to third on Asdrubal Cabrera’s ground ball. There the strategy started.
Crain, a right-hander, was facing Jason Kipnis, a left-handed hitter who has started 4-for-32 (.125). The White Sox chose not to bring in a lefty. Crain threw sharp breaking balls that dropped out of the strike zone; Kipnis swung at none. When the count got to 3-0, Kipnis was walked intentionally.
To Swisher, Kipnis was the game’s second star.
“I was so proud of that at-bat,” Swisher said. “Because in a situation like that you’re not going to get the best pitches to hit. He really showed a lot of maturity in that spot. He took two nasty breaking balls to start out, and then the 2-0 pitch I was thinking to myself, ‘He’s going to give you the same pitch.’ He did, and Kip took it and he ended up walking him.”
Catcher Hector Gimenez set up away for Crain’s first pitch to Swisher, but Crain threw it inside. Swisher was able to turn and hit a line drive just inside the right field line for the game-winner.
“It would have been a shame for us not to go out and give Masty that win that he deserved,” Swisher said.
Swisher’s first game-winner as an Indian led to a wild celebration between first and second, with the effervescent one in the middle.
“I wound up in right field,” Swisher said. “I don’t know how that happened.”
It happened because the Indians admitted this one felt a little better than the average win. After getting shellacked twice by the Yankees, and after two rainouts they needed a win.
Masterson gave them the pitching performance they needed, and the bats got two of the team’s three hits when they were most needed — with both coming from the two main offseason signings, Bourn and Swisher.
“That was a good win,” Francona said, about as far as a manager ever will go in making one April win significant. “We sat for a couple days and we got beat around a little bit before that.”
Swisher was more to the point.
“Huge win for us,” Swisher said. “Just awesome amazingness.”
Another day and another game await, but this was one the Indians needed, and enjoyed.