MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians closer Chris Perez and Twins third baseman Danny Valencia go way back. They have known each other since high school. They roomed together for two years at the University of Miami. Valencia was even in Perez's wedding.
Their friendship was officially put to the test on Tuesday night.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Perez broke Valencia's bat with a 93-mph fastball, and the splintered wood softened the blow of the third baseman's swing. The result was a bloop single into left field that scored two runs, sending the Indians to a disheartening 2-1 loss to the Twins at Target Field.
It just had to be Valencia.
"Yeah," said Perez, rolling his eyes at the cruel twist of fate. "Of course."
It was an unfortunate ending for the Indians (51-45), who slipped back into a tie with the Tigers atop the American League Central with the loss. The rare lapse for Perez -- Cleveland's lone pitching All-Star this summer -- spoiled an overpowering showing by Tribe sinkerballer Justin Masterson.
Masterson walked off the hill with two outs in the eighth inning and the Indians clinging to a 1-0 lead. The right-hander had used 104 pitches -- of which 103 were fastballs -- to scatter four singles and pile up 15 outs via ground balls. Setup man Tony Sipp finished the eighth, bridging the gap to Perez's territory.
"He's a guy who's been pretty much money for us since last year," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Especially in one-run situations."
Prior to Tuesday night's debacle, Perez had successfully converted 32 of 33 save chances, dating back to last August. His only blown save this year came on April 21. After Perez forced Alexi Casilla to fly out to left field to open the ninth inning, the closer looked to be nearing another notch in his belt.
That was before Perez issued a critical one-out walk to Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
"I thought I made some good pitches to Mauer," Perez said. "One of the four that [the umpire] called balls is a strike to 95 percent of the league. But, that's baseball."
Perez then broke the bat of Michael Cuddyer with a heater, but the right fielder got enough of the pitch to send it down the left-field line. Tribe left fielder Luis Valbuena -- an infielder by trade, but with some limited outfield experience -- was playing deep and had no chance to reach the ball swiftly.
Valbuena entered the game in the fifth inning after Travis Buck was forced to exit after being struck on the head by a pitch from Twins lefty Francisco Liriano. Buck was a late addition to the lineup in place of Cleveland's regular left fielder Michael Brantley, who was unavailable due to an upset stomach.
Cuddyer took advantage of Valbuena's inexperience and legged out a double.
"Valbuena, obviously, is not an outfielder," Cuddyer said. "Nothing against him, but he's a second baseman. I knew he was playing 'no doubles' in that situation with me at the plate."
Perez followed with an intentional walk to slugger Jim Thome to load the bases, increasing the chances of a game-ending double play. Unfortunately, the closer slipped behind in the count, 2-1, to his good friend Valencia. The Twins third baseman had a good idea of what was coming.
"I'm sure he wants to throw a slider," Valencia said, "because that's what he always says he's going to strike me out with. Luckily enough, he couldn't get ahead and he gave me a pitch good enough that I could hit into the outfield, and it fell in there."
Valencia's hit dropped in front of Valbuena, allowing Mauer and Cuddyer to score, and Minnesota's bench emptied onto the field to party, while the crowd roared and shook Target Field.
"He's happy because they won," Perez said of his longtime friend. "But I'll take that swing every time. It just fell in there."
It was more than sufficient to undo all of Masterson's work.
Masterson used 54 four-seam fastballs and 44 two-seam sinkers -- mixing speeds with both offerings -- to frustrate the Twins (45-51) all evening. The only time he varied his approach was with his 47th pitch, which was a 1-0 slider to Cuddyer in the fourth inning. Other than that, Masterson braved the heat with an array of heaters.
"What a pitching performance by Masterson," Acta said. "That was tremendous. They couldn't help but beat the ball in the ground the whole day. He was just fantastic."
Liriano, who also walked away with a no-decision, was effectively wild in subduing Cleveland's depleted offense for six frames. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning, but only managed a run-scoring sacrifice fly by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
It looked as though Masterson would make that one run hold up.
"The guys got a run up there," Masterson said. "I was just trying to get out there and limit anything that was taking place. Pound the heater, working in and out. I was able to be pretty successful with that."
That made the late collapse harder to swallow.
"Obviously, I feel bad for Masterson," Perez said. "He pitched a heck of a game for us. He put us in a position to stomp on their throats, and I gave it up."
Making matters worse, Perez will probably hear about the game-winning hit a few more times before the night is through.
"He's staying over at my house tonight," Valencia said. "I will be tweeting a picture of me and him. We're just going to watch the highlight over and over again."
What are friends for?
"He's buying dinner," Perez said.