BOSTON — When the Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 first-inning lead on Thursday, it would have been easy to sit back and expect them to continue teeing off on old friend Justin Masterson. After all, they've done it to pitcher after pitcher this season, so it felt as if Masterson would just be the next victim.
But, instead, the 26-year-old right-hander settled down and did what he's become accustomed to doing since being shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2009 — defeat his former team.
"We see his best. I'm sure he enjoys pitching against us," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after Thursday night's game. "He's really good."
Then again, "good" doesn't even begin to describe how Masterson's pitched against the Red Sox since joining the Indians. With Thursday's win, he ran his career record against the Sox to a still-perfect 3-0 in four starts, while his ERA sits at a sparkling 1.95.
Masterson wasn't necessarily as dominant on Thursday as he was during his two-hit shutout against the Sox at Progressive Field on June 9 of last year. But after falling behind 2-0 early, he was able to keep the Sox offense in check over the next five innings, with the only other blemish coming off the bat of Josh Reddick, who went deep in the fourth for his fifth home run of the season.
Masterson was used primarily as a reliever, while making an occasional spot start, during his tenure in Boston. Although he initially struggled upon arriving in Cleveland in the deal that brought Victor Martinez to Boston, he's blossomed into one of the American League's best young starters this season.
"The things that he needed to work on when he was a young pitcher, getting into lefties and everything. He can do that now," Francona said. "He's not timid throwing it in. He can elevate when he wants to. He's impressive."
Perhaps Masterson's most impressive feat came in the second inning, when he struck out four Red Sox hitters.
Masterson struck out Reddick to begin the frame, but the ball traveled to the backstop. Catcher Carlos Santana, who had three hits, including a two-run home run in the sixth, tracked it down, but his throw to first sailed over the head of first baseman Matt LaPorta.
But rather than let the strange play rattle him, Masterson buckled down, striking out Jason Varitek, Marco Scutaro and Jacoby Ellsbury in order. The last strikeout of Ellsbury came on a nasty slider with good, late bite.
Masterson's four strikeouts in the second inning tied a major league record for K's in an inning. It marks the sixth time that an Indians pitcher has ever accomplished the feat. The last Tribe hurler to do so was Chuck Finley on April 16, 2000, in the third inning against the Texas Rangers.
Masterson struck out nine in total for the night, while allowing the three runs on five hits in six innings.
He's always pitched well at Fenway, so to see him continue to excel in Boston shouldn't come as a major surprise. That, however, doesn't change the fact that impressive performances like Thursday's are much less welcomed now, as he's looking to hurt the Red Sox' pennant chances rather than help them.