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Tribe unleashes dogs on A's, halts skid

Tribe unleashes dogs on A's, halts skid

CLEVELAND -- The Indians were howling for a win.

Or maybe that was just the sound emanating from the right-field party deck, where 269 dogs were in attendance as part of "Puppypalooza" at Progressive Field.

Either way, the Indians were desperate to put the brakes on a five-game losing skid. They did so with a 3-2 win over the A's. And to get it, they needed Justin Masterson to find his command, Matt LaPorta to find his power stroke and closer Chris Perez to find the final five outs.

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Finding these winning formulas has proven particularly difficult for the Indians the last couple weeks. But this victory had some redemptive value.

"These young guys are going to test our patience a lot," manager Manny Acta said. "But we have to continue to be patient with them."

Masterson might have tested the Tribe's patience this year more than anybody. Afforded an opportunity in the rotation, he has been head-scratchingly inconsistent, with seemingly never-ending intrigue over whether his career will eventually take him back to the bullpen.

Just when it appeared relief work was undoubtedly in Masterson's future -- and not just because the Indians plan to have him finish the season in the 'pen when he reaches his 2010 innings threshold -- along came this effective start. Masterson wasn't overpowering, but he did pound the strike zone to stay ahead of the A's hitters.

"With this team, you want to get that first pitch in for a strike," Masterson said. "Get them swinging a little more."

As Acta was quick to point out postgame, Masterson threw 19 of his 26 first-pitches for strikes. That was the key to him posting his fifth victory.

"If he can do that, he's very tough to hit," Acta said. "Because he can throw that sinker off the plate and play around a little more."

Early on, it looked as though Masterson's control issues might get the best of him again. In the second, he hit Mark Ellis with a pitch and gave up a single to Jeff Larish to set up Gabe Gross' RBI single that made it 1-0. Masterson then walked Cliff Pennington with two out, but he got out of the inning by getting Coco Crisp to pop out to short.

From then on, Masterson was quite a bit more efficient. And he got a run of support in the fifth, when the Indians did some damage to Vin Mazzaro with two out. Lou Marson drew a walk, swiped second, advanced to third on Mazzaro's wild pitch and scored on a Michael Brantley single to even the score.

In the sixth, Masterson's final inning of work, the A's regained the lead when Jack Cust drew a leadoff walk and pinch-runner Rajai Davis scored on Kevin Kouzmanoff's two-out double.

That 2-1 lead, however, wouldn't last long. In the bottom of the inning, the Indians again rallied with two out. This time, Trevor Crowe singled, and up came LaPorta, riding a 4-for-44 funk.

"It was frustrating, but it's baseball," LaPorta said of his slump. "You can't have all balls go your way. Sometimes you feel you have good at-bats. They've been coming sporadically for me right now."

But with one thwack of the bat, LaPorta had a good at-bat to savor. He hammered Mazzaro's first-pitch two-seamer out to the left-field bleachers for his first homer since Aug. 8, a two-run shot that made it 3-2.

"I just left a pitch over the plate," Mazzaro said. "It ran back -- and he took a good hack at it."

The Indians have had nothing but hiccups in the hacks department lately. They had scored just four runs total over the course of the five-game losing streak. So posting three in a single game was major progress -- particularly with LaPorta, a player the Tribe hopes to build around, contributing in such a monumental way.

But the game was far from over. And from that point, preservation of the lead was in order. The Indians' bullpen proved up to the challenge.

Rafael Perez worked a perfect seventh, and Chris Perez was summoned to relieve Joe Smith with two on and one out in the eighth. Perez, in his first save opportunity in a week, didn't expect to get the call with the left-handed Larish up to bat. He thought Acta would summon lefty Tony Sipp, who was also warming.

"I was fresh," Perez said. "I haven't been pitching that much lately. I was ready to go."

Perez got Larish looking at a fastball that ran on the outer edge of the plate, then he got Kouzmanoff to ground to first for the final out of the inning. He sat in the dugout as the Indians went down quietly in the eighth.

"You've got to keep your mental edge," he said. "You have to keep your guard up, especially in a one-run game."

It got dicey again in the ninth, when Perez gave up a one-out single to Pennington, who swiped second. But Perez got Coco Crisp looking at a slider that ran away, and he got Daric Barton swinging at strike three to finish his 16th save and the second five-out save of his Major League career.

"Was that a save or what?" Acta said. "That was nails. Tremendous. Right now, if we get to him, we feel pretty good."

This night left the Indians with a lot to feel good about. And with the losing streak over, Tribe fans -- and their dogs -- went home happy.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. Follow @castrovince on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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