CHICAGO -- Justin Masterson will not be able to right the wrongs of an entire season gone awry in his final start, but the sinkerballer will at least have another chance to show Indians fans why he was anointed the team's top arm.
On Wednesday night, Masterson's perplexing season continued with an abbreviated outing against the White Sox. Cleveland overcame his struggles to pull off a 6-4 win over the White Sox, but that was a small victory within a more troubling bigger picture.
"It's been a roller coaster, let's put it that way," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's been hard. But still, when he goes out there every five days, I feel like he can get out and dominate. It's just that it hasn't happened with the consistency that we were hoping for."
Masterson was named the Tribe's Opening Day starter this season, tasked with leading a sinker-heavy rotation capable of helping the Indians contend for the postseason. With a week left in the regular season, it is unmistakably clear that Masterson and his fellow starters fell short in that regard.
Masterson will take the ball one more time for a chance to show he deserves the same opportunity next season.
Against the White Sox (82-73), who slipped a game behind the Tigers in the race for the American League Central title, Masterson bowed out after 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander surrendered four runs on seven hits in a 109-pitch effort, which marked his seventh start this season with fewer than five innings logged.
"Masterson was erratic in the first inning," Acta said. "But he got into a better groove later on up until the fifth inning when he couldn't finish."
Thankfully, the Indians (65-91) were in a spoiling mood.
Facing Chicago lefty Hector Santiago, who lasted just 3 1/3 frames, Russ Canzler chipped in a run-scoring single in the first inning and Jason Kipnis added a two-run single in the fourth. The Indians did not need hits to collect their next two runs, which came via a bases-loaded walk by Carlos Santana in the fourth and an RBI groundout from Shin-Soo Choo in the seventh.
Choo's contribution pushed the Tribe to a 5-4 advantage, which was later padded when Vinny Rottino belted a solo homer off White Sox reliever Brett Myers in the eighth.
Overall, Cleveland drew 12 walks, marking the most for the club in a game since it had 12 against Tampa Bay on May 15, 2004. Kipnis, Santana and Lou Marson each had three free passes, marking the first time since Sept. 26, 1956, that the Indians had three players with at least three walks in the same nine-inning contest.
"We do have a lot of patient guys at the plate," Acta said. "If guys aren't around the plate, we'll take advantage of it."
Doing so against the White Sox, and taking two out of three games in the process, felt especially good for the Tribe.
"It shows a little character," Kipnis said. "They've still got a lot more to play for than we do. We're obviously not going to be doing anything after Oct. 3, but the fact that we're still competing like we are right now, I think, shows signs of some character."
The offense's production, combined with some stellar relief pitching, erased the damage done against Masterson.
Closer Chris Perez notched his 38th save in sealing the victory.
After loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, Masterson forced in a run with a walk to Paul Konerko, allowed a sacrifice fly to Alex Rios and then relinquished an RBI double to A.J. Pierzynski to help Chicago to an early, 3-1, lead.
Alexei Ramirez's RBI double off Masterson in the fifth gave the White Sox a short-lived, 4-3 advantage and knocked the sinkerballer out of the ballgame.
"It was really that first inning," Masterson said. "We spotted them three runs there, but we were able to hold it and the bullpen came in and did great, and the guys scored runs. That was really the story."
Masterson (11-15) walked away with a no-decision to avoid becoming the second Indians starter this season (Ubaldo Jimenez, 9-17) to lose at least 16 games. As it stands, Cleveland has two pitchers with at least 15 defeats in the same season for the first time since 1991 (Charles Nagy and Greg Swindell).
It has been an especially disappointing tour for Masterson, who entered the year seemingly primed to build on his breakout showing (12-11, 3.21 ERA) in 2011. Masterson showed his ability in spurts, but could not maintain the type of consistent performance Cleveland so craved as it fell out of contention over the past two months.
Consider that Masterson posted a 1.93 ERA over a six-start stretch that ran from June 3-July 1, lowing his season ERA to 3.92 at the time. In his 16 outings since, the sinkerballer has gone 6-8 with a 6.40 ERA. Masterson has gone 1.4 with a 7.31 ERA in his six most recent turns.
"It's been difficult to explain," Masterson said. "Whether I'm doing it right, or hurting myself, or not catching some breaks, it's just kind of the way it's been this year. Unfortunately, I haven't done my job the way I'm supposed to. It's hard to explain or see exactly why."
Masterson has one more chance to finish this season on better terms.
"I've got one more start," Masterson said. "We'll finish out hopefully strong and come in strong next year."