CLEVELAND -- The Indians seemingly had everything aligned in their favor on Friday night. The Tribe returned to a sold-out Progressive Field crowd after a long road trip and had staff leader Justin Masterson on the hill to face the Tigers.
Things did not go the way Cleveland hoped.
Masterson turned in his shortest outing of the season and the Tribe offense went silent against Rick Porcello in a 7-0 rout at the hands of the American League Central-leading Tigers. The loss was the third in a row for Cleveland, which had a taste of first place on Wednesday, but has since stumbled to 2 1/2 games behind Detroit in the standings.
"We just lost," Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. "There isn't any other way to say it."
The Indians (45-41) have downplayed the importance of this four-game series, saying it is just another set of games within the marathon grind that is the regular season. Around Cleveland, it felt bigger than that, especially since the Indians' recent turnaround -- 15 wins in 20 games prior to the recent three-game slump -- pulled them back within striking distance of Detroit.
The fans responded Friday with an announced crowd of 40,167, representing the first non-Opening Day sellout since July 4, 2011.
Indians manager Terry Francona has emphasized the importance of concentrating only on the game at hand -- no matter the opponent. That approach has trickled down the hallway from his office to the locker room, where the players echoed the belief that no single game carries more weight than the one before or the one after.
"That's the way you have to have it," Masterson said. "That's how you get successful. That's how you don't keep dwelling on what you just did yesterday. You can focus on what you have to do at hand and the task at hand. Every day for us, it's trying to be victorious.
"Go out, work hard, and play the game the right way. And, when you don't, tomorrow is the next day and that's the one that matters."
The Tigers (47-38) issued a reminder on Friday of why they are the reigning AL champions.
Detroit, which has won seven of nine meetings with Cleveland this season, forced Masterson (10-7) from the contest after 4 2/3 innings and 108 pitches. The Tigers forced the sinkerballer into deep counts, working four walks and churning out six runs on seven hits to more than make up for the six strikeouts he mixed in.
Masterson said he had problems with flying open in his delivery, leading to some flattened sinkers and a diminished slider.
"He didn't have his real sharp breaking ball," Francona said. "A lot of times you seem him back-door to a lefty or have some power to it. There were times where he got through the lineup towards the middle of his outing where he started throwing it a little harder, and it was more effective.
"But, when you don't have your 'A' game, with that lineup, that will certainly add to it."
Masterson's delivery was also off when he tried to make light of the situation after the loss, joking that the real problem was that he shaved off his beard.
"I think my head was a little bit lighter," Masterson said. "I have to re-evaluate the next time that I shave."
In the second inning, Masterson slipped into a bases-loaded jam with two outs against Tigers second baseman Ramon Santiago, who entered the at-bat 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position on the year and 1-for-14 in his career against Masterson. Those numbers flew out the window when Santiago drove a pitch into center field for a two-run single that pushed Cleveland behind, 2-0.
Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera delivered a run-scoring single in the third inning -- marking his 86th RBI of the season -- and the Tigers added three more runs off Masterson before the end of the fifth. In that frame, Victor Martinez came through with an RBI single and Jhonny Peralta (1-for-17 in his career against Masterson prior to Friday) struck for a two-run double that chased the pitcher from the game.
"When the sinker is up, anybody can hit it," Masterson said. "It doesn't matter what the numbers are."
Cleveland showed a knack for improbable comebacks during its recent 11-game road trip, but Porcello saw to it that the Tribe came up empty this time around. Over seven innings, Porcello limited the Indians to five hits and ended the evening with six strikeouts against a pair of walks.
"I didn't expect him to shut this lineup out, to be honest with you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Porcello. "But I'm thrilled to death that he did."
The Indians' best scoring chance against Porcello came in the sixth inning, when Jason Kipnis tried to start a rally with a one-out single, extending his hitting streak to 16 games and his on-base streak to 36 games. Nick Swisher followed with a base hit and Carlos Santana later stepped into the box with runners on the corners and two outs.
Santana swung at the first pitch he received from Porcello -- a 92-mph fastball -- and sent the offering towering to deep center field. As the Progressive Field crowd roared, Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson glided back toward the wall and reeled in the baseball for an inning-ending catch that silenced the stadium.
"We never really got him in any real trouble," Bourn said. "We hit some balls hard off him, but every time we hit it hard, they caught it."
Bourn reiterated that the Indians are not going to get too wrapped up in this one defeat.
"You've got to have a short-term memory," he said. "You want the success to carry over, but you don't want the failure to linger on."