CLEVELAND -- On another night, Indians manager Terry Francona would have probably left Justin Masterson on the mound. The situation that arose in the seventh inning on Friday night convinced the manager to turn to his bullpen.
Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera -- a nemesis of Masterson's over the years -- had three hits already and was due to bat again with Cleveland clinging to a one-run lead. In need of a shut-down inning, the Indians bullpen and defense let the team down, resulting in a discouraging 3-2 loss at Progressive Field.
In a quiet Cleveland clubhouse, Masterson did not second-guess his manager's decision.
"If I was Tito, I'd take me out," Masterson said.
Masterson had given the Indians what they needed, turning in a solid performance to turn the page on his two previous outings. Following his exit, the typically-sound duo of left-hander Marc Rzepczynski and setup man Cody Allen faltered, catcher Yan Gomes made a costly throwing error and the Tribe offense came up empty with the bases loaded in the ninth.
The end result was a loss in the opener of this three-game set with Toronto, giving Cleveland six losses in its past eight games. To this point, the Indians (7-9) have not looked in sync, laboring in one aspect when it seems another begins to show improvement.
Masterson said the club had maintained its confidence amidst the cold start.
"Right now, it just seems like we're all still a little rusty," Masterson said. "We've had some good starts lately, which has been great. We had some bad starts before that. We've had a few defensive flaws here. The offense has been great in the overall sense. They've been doing an incredible job.
"We're just working out the kinks, having some fun. A lot of close games. I think you'll find as we continue to go, there's going to be a lot of great things coming."
The game was setting up nicely for Cleveland through six innings.
Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison was tough on the Tribe, allowing no runs through the first five frames, but he finally flinched in the sixth. Jason Kipnis led things off by legging out an infield single and Carlos Santana -- mired in a 1-for-30 funk at the plate -- followed with a towering two-run home run to right field to put the Indians ahead, 2-1.
It was not much of a lead, but Masterson had limited Toronto to just one run to that point. That lone misstep came in the fourth, when Colby Rasmus doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a dribbler down the third-base line off the bat of Brett Lawrie. Overall, Masterson was charged with two runs and had nine strikeouts with two walks in 6 1/3 innings on the night.
"[It was] pretty good," Francona said of Masterson. "The score of the game, and who was hitting, kind of dictated going to the bullpen. It didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, but I thought he did a real good job."
Francona was referring to Cabrera, whose 3-for-3 showing on Friday gave him a .556 (15-for-27) career average against Masterson. In the seventh inning, Cabrera was due to bat after the big sinkerballer issued a one-out walk to Toronto shortstop Ryan Goins. That is when Francona turned to Rzepczynski, who entered the outing with no earned runs allowed on the young season.
Considering Masterson was only at 93 pitches, the walk to Goins was probably the difference for Francona.
"It wasn't a sure thing," said Francona, referring to pulling Masterson. "We wanted Zep [Rzepczynski] to be ready and then Cody behind him. With the score 2-1, and we didn't score that third run, and the way Melky was swinging off him, and he had the walk and the ball didn't come out real crisp, it seemed to me to make sense."
Cabrera still came through against Rzepczynski, sending a pitch to left-center field for a single. Munenori Kawasaki followed by lacing a pitch up the middle for a run-scoring single that pulled the game into a 2-2 deadlock. With runners now on first and second base, Francona handed the ball to Allen, who entered with 12 strikeouts, two walks and no runs yielded through eight appearances.
On Allen's first pitch to slugger Jose Bautista -- a ball -- Gomes burst from his crouch and fired the baseball to first baseman Nick Swisher in an effort to pick off Kawasaki. Gomes skipped the throw for a critical error that allowed the two runners to move up 90 feet apiece. Allen had little choice but to then intentionally walk Bautista to load the bases.
Edwin Encarnacion made Cleveland pay with an RBI single to center field to put Toronto ahead for good.
"I looked over, and Swish and I actually put that play on," Gomes said. "It's a tough one to swallow, man. Especially since Masty had a great game. It's possibly an error that cost us the game. It's a tough one to swallow, but we've got another game tomorrow. You've just got to learn from it."
Cleveland had a chance to erase the mistakes of the seventh during a last-minute comeback attempt in the ninth.
Lonnie Chisenhall opened with a double off Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos, but Michael Bourn was unable to get a sacrifice bunt down in the next at-bat. Santos capitalized by striking both Bourn and Swisher out before issuing consecutive walks to load the bases. The closer recovered by inducing a game-ending groundout off the bat of Michael Brantley.
The Indians ended the evening 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"We didn't get a bunt down. We had a strikeout," Francona said. "But, we keep playing. If Brantley's ball is a couple feet over, we win. But we put ourselves in a tough spot. It's hard to win those games."