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Overpowering Masterson flirts with history in finale

Righty holds Twins hitless before Dozier's leadoff double in seventh

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians center fielder Drew Stubbs sprinted in and left his feet, doing all he could to try to snare the fly ball off Brian Dozier's bat in the seventh inning. Stubbs slammed to the ground and the baseball dropped to the grass just in front of his glove.

"It was just a matter of inches," Stubbs said.

That ended Tribe sinkerballer Justin Masterson's flirtation with history on Saturday afternoon.

Masterson carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but instead settled for an overpowering performance that guided Cleveland to a 7-1 victory. That snapped a two-game funk for the Indians, who left Target Field smiling as they head west for a three-game series with the Mariners.

It was a welcomed response for an Indians club that had poor defense and a quiet offense spoil strong pitching in each of the past two games in the Twin Cities. In the finale of the series with Minnesota, Masterson kept his fielders on their toes with his bat-shattering sinker and the lineup had contributions up and down the order.

"That's what we can do," Masterson said. "You've seen the last couple games. We were just a little bit sloppy kind of all the way around. I think today is a nice one -- a little kick in the pants. Let's get it back together and really push."

Masterson led the charge.

Following a 10-day break, which included a seat in the American League's duguout for his first All-Star Game, Masterson was dominant for the Indians (52-46) in his opening act of the second half. The right-hander logged seven innings and only surrendered one hit, keeping Cleveland's 32-season no-hitter drought alive.

Len Barker remains the last Indians pitcher to complete a no-hitter, doing so with his perfect game against the Blue Jays on May 15, 1981.

"You've got to be good," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "and you've got to be a little lucky."

Masterson improved to 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 21 starts, during which he has 145 strikeouts against 54 walks across 142 1/3 innings. This marked only the second time in Masterson's career -- the other was June 20 last year against the Reds -- that the pitcher finished a start with at least seven innings, eight strikeouts and no walks.

For Francona, who first managed Masterson in their days with the Red Sox, it has been fun to watch the right-hander develop into the leader of a rotation and an All-Star.

"I'm not surprised," Francona said. "I said it, I think from the day I got hired [in Cleveland], that I was betting on the person. I will never change my feelings. I always trust him, that he'll figure out a way to win, even when he doesn't have his best stuff. He's been so good at maintaining his stuff all year.

"He's just matured into a really top, elite pitcher in our league."

Using his signature mix of a power sinker and sweeping slider, Masterson induced nine groundouts and piled up eight strikeouts with no walks in his seven innings. The right-hander's lone miscue through the first six frames came in the third inning, when he hit Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks with a pitch with one out.

Hicks was promptly thrown out at second by catcher Carlos Santana on a stolen-base attempt.

"The guy can go deep into games before anyone even gets close to figuring him out," said Kipnis of Masterson. "He's got that kind of stuff. I thought he was really on his game."

After scoring only four runs in the previous two games combined, the Indians provided more than enough support for Masterson.

Kipnis sliced a pitch from Twins starter Scott Diamond off the railing above the left-field wall for a two-run home run in the third inning -- the second baseman's 15th long ball of the season -- to put the Tribe ahead, 3-0. In the fifth, Michael Brantley sent Diamond to the showers with a two-out, three-run triple that pushed Cleveland to a six-run lead. Kipnis added a run-scoring single in the ninth.

"That's the kind of team I think we need to be," Francona said. "We need to keep the line moving."

Masterson entered the afternoon with three shutouts on the season, but another one was not in the cards against Minnesota. Dozier -- hitting .625 (5-for-8) in his career against Masterson prior to Sunday -- stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh and sent the first pitch he saw to center field.

"He was filthy," Dozier said. "The whole game, he kept powering sinkers and just fell off the table. ... I was going to take one to try and work the count and I thought, 'You know what? I might fall behind.' So I went up there hacking."

Stubbs made an admirable effort with his dive, but could not keep the no-hitter intact. The ball skipped away, and Dozier raced to second base for a leadoff double.

"Every time Drew goes after a ball, I think he's going to get it," Francona said. "He's so good that I always think he's going to catch it. He gave it everything he had."

Two batters later, Dozier scored from third on a ground ball off the bat of Joe Mauer, who reached base when Kipnis bobbled the routine chopper.

Masterson retired the next two hitters in order, departing in line for a win, but not a spot in history.

"In the end, we got a victory," said Masterson. "That's what I want to see. That's what I want."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
Read More: Cleveland Indians, Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis