CLEVELAND (AP) — Coined by actor-turned-bad-boy Charlie Sheen, the catchphrase on the front of Justin Masterson’s black T-shirt said it all.
That’s how the Cleveland Indians are rolling these days.
“It’s early, but I like where we’re at and I like what we’re doing,” Masterson said.
He won his fifth straight start, a stunning personal turnaround from last season, Jack Hannahan homered twice and Shin-Soo Choo hit a three-run shot, leading the first-place Indians to a 9-4 win over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.
At 14-8, the Indians are off to their best start since 2007, when they won 96.
Masterson (5-0) allowed three runs and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. A year ago, the right-hander started 0-5, lost 11 straight games over two seasons and went winless over a stretch of 17 starts — a club record of futility. He’s a different pitcher in 2011. The Indians are a different team.
They hit five homers, got saved by rookie reliever Vinnie Pestano and won their eight straight at home — not bad for a team picked by most to finish at the bottom of their division.
“It’s not the same guy doing it every time,” Masterson said. “It’s a different guy, that’s what makes this fun. Guys are making plays here, there and everywhere. It’s not the same person every time, we’re kind of doing it collectively, and it’s kind of the sign of a pretty good team.”
Hannahan hit solo shots in the third and fifth off Luke Hochevar (2-3), and Choo connected in the seventh on reliever Louis Coleman’s first pitch to make it 7-3.
Grady Sizemore went 3 for 4 and hit a two-run homer in the eighth for the Indians.
Melky Cabrera homered and Alex Gordon extended his hitting streak to 19 games for the Royals. Kansas City has dropped four in a row and seven of nine after a 10-4 start.
“It hasn’t affected our confidence,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “Look what we did, we had a chance to win the game, even though we were down. We have to battle through it. That’s all we can do. You go through it during the season and keep coming to the park ready to win.”
Masterson’s reversal has been one of the keys to the Indians’ quick start. He finished strong in 2010, and has carried it over into this season. Of his five wins, four have come following a Cleveland loss and he’s gone at least six innings in each start.
He was pulled in the seventh with the Indians up only 4-3 and the tying run at second.
Reliever Tony Sipp came on and struck out Chris Getz, but the left-hander loaded the bases with none out in the eighth. Manager Manny Acta brought in Pestano, who worked out of the mess by getting two popups and a strikeout.
“He saved the day,” Acta said.
Choo’s third homer gave the Indians some breathing room in the seventh. Hannahan and Asdrubal Cabrera singled before Royals manager Ned Yost pulled Hochevar. Choo, who came in batting just .207, then blasted Coleman’s first offering into the bullpen in center.
While the Indians’ strong start may have surprised many around baseball, Acta always believed his team would be contending from the outset. And as for his club battling Kansas City for first in the AL Central, Acta couldn’t care if it’s April or October.
“It’s good for baseball,” he said. “It’s good for both cities, both fan bases. Despite how early it is, we’re happy about it.”
Acta has been getting contributions from top to bottom of his order and from the back to the front of the bullpen.
“We’re not hiding the fact that if we are going to continue this we’re going to need everyone contributing,” Acta said. “We’re going to need everybody in the lineup to play to their capabilities. We’re going to need guys in our rotation to stay healthy and pitch well and we’re going to need our bullpen to do a good job because we are a better club than we were last year. We’re going to need everyone at full cylinder to keep playing this way.”
Matt LaPorta and Hannahan connected for back-to-back homers with one out in the fifth, giving the Indians a 4-2 lead.
Masterson opened by retiring 10 straight — five on grounders — before Melky Cabrera skittered a single under diving second baseman Orlando Cabrera’s glove. Gordon followed with an RBI double and scored on Billy Butler’s double into the right-field corner.
Jeff Francoeur singled to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, but Masterson kept it tied by getting Kila Ka’aihue to rap into an inning-ending double play.
Hannahan’s third homer gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead in the third.
NOTES: Sizemore’s the first player in franchise history with 200 doubles, 100 homers and 100 steals. … Indians RHP Carlos Carrasco, who left his previous start after three innings with elbow tightness, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. If it goes well and he’s not sore on Thursday, he’s expected to make his start on Saturday against Detroit. … The Indians are the only team yet to throw out a base stealer. Opponents are 14 for 14 in steal attempts.