CLEVELAND -- When Justin Masterson mans the mound, the Indians' offense tends to dry up as if Progressive Field were in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Perhaps the team has unearthed an oasis. The Tribe hitters produced eight runs on Friday to give the right-hander his first win since April 26, and on Wednesday night, they threatened to pour more runs on the Yankees. The Indians left 13 runners on base, but fortunately, Masterson was at his best, a painfully pointy, cactus-like thorn in the side of New York's powerful lineup in a 5-3 Indians win.
Masterson -- 7-6 with a 2.66 ERA -- hasn't been the beneficiary of bundles of run support this season. But his teammates provided backing in the form of an early lead and a slew of sterling defensive gems.
The 6-foot-6 Masterson earned his second win in as many starts after a two-month drought, holding the Yankees to just three hits in eight scoreless innings. He mixed a 96-mph four-seam fastball with a sinking heater that topped out around 91 mph, leaving New York's left-handers, who went 0-for-19, lost.
"I was able to keep them off balance, working inside and outside, trying to keep them guessing," Masterson said.
Before beating the Reds on Friday, Masterson hadn't won in 11 starts, going 0-6 in that span despite posting a 3.34 ERA. The Indians scored just 22 runs during that stretch.
On Wednesday, Masterson ensured that even the slightest offensive output would be sufficient. He retired the Yankees in a variety of ways, striking out six, inducing 11 outs on ground balls and seven more via fly balls.
Masterson's defense certainly had his back.
First baseman Matt LaPorta, fresh off the 15-day disabled list after missing three weeks with a high right ankle sprain, made a diving stop in the second inning to prevent a run-scoring hit down the right-field line. In the fifth, Grady Sizemore, in his best Spider-Man impersonation, scaled the center-field wall to rob Nick Swisher of extra bases.
With the Yankees attempting an eighth-inning rally, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera made back-to-back plays that forced the crowd of 31,926 out of their seats. With Derek Jeter on second base after his 2,997th hit, Curtis Granderson hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Cabrera reached out as far as his arm would allow, snagged the baseball, spun and fired a strike to first to retire the speedy center fielder.
The Indians then put on a shift for first baseman Mark Teixeira, who pulled a ground ball to the right of second base. Cabrera, leaps and bounds away from his typical shortstop position, made a sliding stop from the outfield grass with his glove extended and threw out the Yankees slugger to end the threat and preserve Masterson's scoreless effort.
"He played fantastic defense," Indians manager Manny Acta said of Cabrera. "Both of them were great, especially the one up the middle. Those hands and that range that he had and the athleticism to get up and make a good throw -- this guy has been darn good for us."
So much for Cabrera's sprained right ankle. The All-Star left Tuesday's game in the fourth inning after turning his ankle while planting to make an off-balance throw. Acta said that Cabrera pleaded for inclusion in Wednesday's lineup. He didn't disappoint.
"He wasn't going to take a day off," Acta said. "He was texting me all the way through the night telling me that he was ready and where he was going to hit and where he was going to play."
Of course, Cabrera's defensive wizardry leaves the infrequent observer in awe. But his glitzy glovework has become standard to those who share the diamond with him.
"It doesn't surprise me, but it's still exciting to watch," Masterson said. "It never gets old, but you're not like, 'Oh, a ball hit to Asdrubal, what's he going to do?' It's always exciting being able to watch him out there."
While Masterson appreciated the plays made behind him, his manager left the field impressed by what he accomplished on the rubber.
"He was able to get the fastball in and was able to use both sides of the plate very effectively," Acta said. "He was just unhittable today."
New York's Phil Hughes made his first start since April 14, and the Indians wasted no time in re-acquainting him with a Major League lineup. Designated hitter Travis Hafner singled home left fielder Michael Brantley in the first inning. Carlos Santana, the next batter, struck out on an offspeed pitch in the dirt, but the ball squirted away from catcher Russell Martin. Cabrera took advantage and sprinted toward third base, and when Martin tried to throw him out, his heave sailed into left field, allowing Cabrera to tack on the second run of the inning.
Cleveland had plenty of chances to add to its lead, but Hughes kept escaping unscathed. Finally, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall socked the first home run of his career, drilling a seventh-inning fastball from Boone Logan to pad the Tribe's lead to 3-0.
"It went by really fast, so I'm going to have to go back and watch it on video so I can enjoy it a little more," Chisenhall said.
A pair of runs in the eighth made the Yankees' three-run ninth inconsequential. Reliever Vinnie Pestano surrendered three hits as quickly as he sprints in from the bullpen before each of his appearances. All three runners scored, but closer Chris Perez nailed down his 21st save.
Nevertheless, the offense and bullpen were secondary, as, according to the Tribe's skipper, "the night belonged to Masterson."
"I know we had a chance to put the game away throughout the whole game," Acta said, "but being able to score five -- the way Masterson pitched -- was good enough."
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.