One down of what he hopes is many
Masterson picks up first career win, leading Sox over Royals
BOSTON -- As ridiculously high as Jon Lester set the bar for Justin Masterson during the right-hander's latest one-day apprenticeship from Double-A Portland, the kid somehow made his own performance one to remember.
No, Masterson didn't no-hit Kansas City like Lester did 24 hours earlier. But he was in top form, earning his first Major League victory and leading the Red Sox past the Royals, 2-1, on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
It was the fifth win in a row for the American League East-leading Red Sox.
With Bartolo Colon -- yes, remember him? -- set to make his Red Sox debut on Wednesday, Masterson will go back to the Minor Leagues. But this time, he will go to Triple-A Pawtucket instead of returning to Portland.
But he has a souvenir to take with him. And it came from Jonathan Papelbon after the fireballing closer made Masteron's first win official by nailing down the save in the ninth.
"Pap, when were slapping hands, he gave me the ball, the last ball of the game," said Masterson. "That was pretty cool."
As strong as Masterson has been (1-0, 1.46 ERA) in his first two Major League starts, there is simply no room for the talented sinkerballer right now on the Red Sox, who have a stacked rotation of Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Lester, Tim Wakefield and now Colon, who won the AL Cy Young Award just three years ago.
"I don't think we would look at him like an insurance policy," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's a really good-looking young pitcher that's developing, and fortunately for us, he has the composure to be able to come from Double-A and pitch a Major League game. This is two starts now. He's really done a good job. It's more than just stuff. It's the way he's able to handle himself. That's not the easiest thing to do, but he fits right in. I think he enjoys himself."
And Masterson sure seems to be a pitcher who will be heard from in the not-too-distant future, if not again at some point this season. In this one, he went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one run, walking three and striking out five. Masterson threw 91 pitches, 55 of which were for strikes.
"I really feel like I can, later on in the season or whenever it may be, come up and help the team to be victorious," said Masterson. "I think that's what everyone's trying to do, too. I'm pretty excited, and I've had some good outings to give me some confidence, and I just want to build on that."
This outing was eerily similar to Masterson's April 24 start against the Angels, when he allowed one run over six innings and left with the lead. The difference was that the bullpen held the lead this time, allowing Masterson to get a win instead of a no-decision.
It did, however, get very interesting.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Hideki Okajima surrendered a leadoff double to David DeJesus and then a fielder's-choice grounder to Mark Grudzielanek, putting the tying run at third with one out.
After walking Alex Gordon, Okajima got a critical strikeout of Jose Guillen. But he walked Mark Teahen to load the bases.
|"He's a really good-looking young pitcher that's developing, and fortunately for us, he has the composure to be able to come from Double-A and pitch a Major League game. This is two starts now. He's really done a good job. It's more than just stuff. It's the way he's able to handle himself. That's not the easiest thing to do, but he fits right in. I think he enjoys himself."|
|-- Terry Francona, on Justin Masterson|
It was Okajima's first outing in six days, as he had been resting up with a minor ailment in his left wrist.
On came Papelbon to put out the fire, as he struck out Billy Butler on a nasty slider. Papelbon earned his 13th save after closing out the Royals in the ninth.
Not that Masterson had a doubt.
"I wasn't too nervous, I was more excited," Masterson said. "I knew the guys coming in would get the job done, just like they always do, and they didn't prove me wrong. I was pumped to see it happen. Pap ended it great."
Offensively, it was an uneventful night for the Sox. They did rally against Royals starter Gil Meche in the second. Kevin Youkilis started it with a one-out single to center. J.D. Drew followed by doing the same thing, putting runners at the corners. Jason Varitek drew a walk to load the bases, and Julio Lugo delivered a sacrifice fly to right. Up stepped Coco Crisp, who roped a ground-rule double to right to make it 2-0.
Thanks to the work of Masterson, those two runs did the trick.
"He's got a tremendous amount of movement on his fastball," said Varitek. "But he was able to be strike one a lot, which is important for us. He was able to mix stuff in and utilize both sides of the plate. But he's got some late life on his fastball, movement-wise."
In case you wondered, Masterson watched Lester's no-hitter on television with his wife at a Boston hotel. It left quite an impression.
"I was excited," Masterson said. "Of course, one of the announcers was like, 'Have fun following this one up, Justin.' I was like, 'OK.' But just watching that and seeing that, I was like, that's just so awesome. And of course, rolling through my mind was, I wanted to throw a perfect game or maybe back-to-back no-hitters. But that was taken away in the first inning."
Now it's on to Triple-A. But not without a taste of the life that he wants to live for one more day.
"I've learned that baseball is a very interesting game and that many things can happen, but you really just pitch your game," said Masterson. "If your stuff plays, your stuff plays. That's the biggest thing."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.