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CLE@BAL: Santana jacks a two-run shot to right-center

BALTIMORE -- The Indians can only hope that Thursday's offensive outpouring portends second-half success. The Tribe knows it needs to improve in the batter's box down the stretch, and the lineup certainly answered that call at Camden Yards.

Powered by a pair of first-inning home runs from Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, Cleveland gave starter Justin Masterson ample support en route to an 8-4 victory over Baltimore in the opener of a four-game series. As the Tribe sets its sights on the postseason, similar outbursts will be required over the remaining slate.

Perhaps the latest win is indicative of things to come.

"That'd be great," said Masterson, flashing a wide grin.

Among Cleveland's starters, Masterson might be the most familiar with its offensive shortcomings over the past two months. During an 11-start winless drought that stretched across May and June, the big righty pitched admirably but was only offered 22 runs of support. Things have changed dramatically.

Over Masterson's past four outings, during which he has posted a 3-0 ledger, the Indians have scored 25 runs. Cleveland's showing in Baltimore included eight runs on 11 hits, including the two early home runs (No. 15 on the year for Cabrera and No. 14 for Santana) off Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie.

It marked only the second time in the past 37 games that the Tribe scored at least eight runs.

"The heart of our order did the damage," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "That's what we need. We need a couple of guys to get hot so everything is not just on Asdrubal's and [Travis] Hafner's shoulders."

Cabrera -- Cleveland's lone offensive American League All-Star -- finished 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Hafner went 2-for-2 with two walks, one hit-by-pitch and an RBI single during a four-run sixth inning for the Tribe. Santana, batting cleanup, was 2-for-5 with three RBIs in the kind of showing the Indians hope to receive more consistently.

The combination of a rested and rejuvenated offense plus Masterson's solid performance helped the Indians (48-42) pull even with the idle Tigers atop the AL Central. Over the next 10 weeks, however, the last thing Acta wants is for his players to be monitoring the scoreboard.

During Wednesday's workout in Cleveland, and once again prior to Thursday's game, Acta emphasized as much in team meetings.

"We talked to these guys," Acta said. "All we need to do is worry about what's in front of us. Right now, what's in front of us is the Baltimore Orioles. Let's play it one day at a time and try to win as many games as we can and not worry about the other teams.

"The way things are going, this is probably going to go all the way down to the end."

That could create a stressful environment. Masterson sees things differently.

"We're excited," Masterson said. "We don't have to play out of our shoes, but just go about our business, limiting our errors as a whole. I think we're all pretty excited about the success that we're able to have, and it'll really just be playing the game that we've been playing.

"That's been minimizing the mistakes that we make and going out there and really scoring more runs than the other team."

Cabrera echoed Acta's message.

"Every game in the second half is going to be really important for us," he said. "There's just two-and-a-half months left. We've got to try to win as many games as possible. We've just got to go play hard and try to win. We can't worry about whether the other teams win or not."

Masterson (8-6) made the most of the 3-0 lead that Cabrera's solo shot and Santana's two-run blast provided in the first inning. The sinkerballer peppered the strike zone, using an especially sharp slider to offset an inconsistent two-seamer. Overall, Masterson struck out eight, walked one and surrendered four runs on eight hits.

"He had some traffic out there," Acta said, "but he made pitches when he had to."

That made for a frustrating night for the Orioles, who have now lost eight games in a row.

"Masterson threw really well," said Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones. "We still put ourselves in position to get some hits and didn't do it."

This evening was less about Masterson and more about the offense, though.

In the third inning, Santana upped Cleveland's advantage to four with a run-scoring double off Guthrie (3-13), who was chased after surrendering six runs in five innings for Baltimore (36-53). In the Tribe's four-run sixth, Travis Buck contributed a sacrifice fly and Michael Brantley, Cabrera and Hafner chipped in RBI singles in succession.

It was more than sufficient in overcoming Masterson's few missteps. Acta was satisfied with the starter's performance.

"When he had to make pitches, he turned it up a notch," Acta said. "He's been money for us. He's overpowering when he's on his game."

The question now is whether the Indians' offense can hold a strong pace.

That will be vital the rest of the way.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Acta said. "You want to play meaningful games in the second half of the season."

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