CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson would have loved nothing more than to challenge Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton in the seventh inning on Friday night. Power against power, with the game in the balance.
"Of course you want to be out there," Masterson said.
The situation, however, was not set up for such a meeting.
With one out and two runners onboard, and Cleveland trailing by only one run, it was the perfect time to turn to lefty Tony Sipp. The percentages were in the Tribe's favor, but fate was not. A strategically sound call to the bullpen led to a meltdown, and the Indians were dealt a stunning 11-2 loss.
The defeat -- helped by an overpowering performance by Texas right-hander Alexi Ogando -- continued a rough string of games for the Tribe.
Dating back to May 3, when the Indians were 20-8, Cleveland has gone 13-14. More recently, the Tribe has dropped seven games in a stretch of 10, suffering a handful of blowout losses of 14-2, 7-0 and 11-1 before Friday's debacle. Cleveland has also lost four in a row at home for the first time this year.
Enter manager Manny Acta -- the eternal optimist.
"I feel good," Acta said. "Hey, we've won two out of the last four -- .500. Not bad. That's the way I look at it."
The fact that the Indians' remain atop the American League Central with a 33-22 ledger makes the losses easier to shoulder. Even after this latest loss, the Tribe remains 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the division. That is the same advantage Cleveland had a month ago.
On Friday, though, the Indians had a chance to pad their division lead.
Sipp jogged in from the bullpen after Masterson (5-4) gave the Tribe 6 1/3 solid innings, during which he scattered 10 hits and struck out seven. Masterson had allowed two runs early on, but the big sinkerballer exercised strong damage control and left with the Rangers (32-26) clinging to a one-run lead.
"In an overall sense, I'm pretty happy with what I gave," said Masterson, who has not collected a win since April 26. "I mean, I'm not happy about losing, but I'm happy about the way [my start] went."
With runners on the corners in the seventh, Hamilton settled into his stance, saw two pitches from Sipp and was swiftly down 0-2. Entering their confrontation, Sipp had held left-handed hitters to just one single in 28 at-bats and 31 plate appearances this season. Lefties had hit just .186 off him in his career.
He had also allowed just one run over his previous 14 appearances.
"He's been great, man," Acta said. "He's been great for the last two and a half seasons that he's been up here. ... Tony has been very reliable. He's one of the best-kept secrets in the game."
He's also bound to struggle once in a while.
The lefty's third pitch was a 92-mph fastball -- the same type of offering as the first two. Hamilton's eyes widened and his hands reacted, and the baseball that had spun from Sipp's fingers rocketed over the wall down the right-field line. Hamilton's three-run homer put Cleveland down, 5-1.
"I just knew the scouting reports -- fastball and slider," Hamilton said. "I don't know why he didn't throw a slider. He just missed his spot trying to throw a heater low and away. I was sitting offspeed, thinking he would try to make me expand the zone. He left it up and in."
From there the game spun out of control.
Later in the seventh, outfielders Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo lost track of a fly ball, gift-wrapping a double for Texas' Adrian Beltre. Sipp then surrendered a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz. An inning later, reliever Chad Durbin relinquished a three-run double to Elvis Andrus that blew open the game, 10-1.
Never mind the 11th run that crossed the plate in the top of the ninth.
Ogando, who improved to 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA with the win, hardly needed that much of a cushion. Over eight innings, the right-hander allowed four hits -- all singles -- and yielded only one run. After he exited, Asdrubal Cabrera belted a solo home run, his 11th blast of the year.
Ogando used a hard heater and a sharp slider to baffle the Indians' offense.
"When a guy's got two pitches that are working pretty good, especially when he's throwing 97 mph, it's a tough day at the plate," said first baseman Matt LaPorta. "You've got to battle. You've got to find a way to get on -- do something."
And the Tribe's bullpen needed to find a way to keep the game close.
"The bullpen is bound to give up a run some time in their life," Masterson said. "It's going to happen a few times. It happened tonight. It's unfortunate, but you move on and you go after it."