Justin Masterson gave the red-hot Cleveland Indians just what they needed on Sunday afternoon.
After allowing six runs and taking a loss in his last start, Masterson was masterful against the Chicago White Sox in a 4-0 complete-game victory at U.S. Cellular Field. Cleveland swept a four-game series against the Sox and has now won 10 of its last 13 games.
Combined with the Detroit Tigers' loss in Tampa Bay, the Indians (44-38) pulled even for first place in the American League Central as they head to Kansas City for a three-game set that starts Tuesday.
"It means the season still has a long ways to go," said Masterson (10-6), who outdueled Chicago ace Chris Sale on a sun-soaked, windy afternoon. "It's nice for us to be playing good baseball. I think by default you're seeing what other people are doing (in the division), but in the end you've just got to worry about yourself. If we take care of our business, hopefully good things will happen."
On the other side of the field, good things haven't happened for the White Sox in a while. It was the fifth straight defeat for Chicago (32-47), which has lost 13 of its last 17 games and 23 of its last 30 and continues to languish in last place of the AL Central -- 10 1/2 games back of the Indians and Tigers.
"It wasn't fun," Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said of being swept. "It definitely wasn't fun. We just have to keep grinding. I don't know what anybody can say about it. Find a way to win, keep grinding."
That, in essence, is what White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters before the game in regard to rumors he's close to selling off pieces of the team for prospects to build for the future. Hahn initially expressed hope that an extended winning streak would keep him from becoming a seller heading toward the trade deadline, but no winning streak started in this game.
Masterson, who came in with a 2.47 ERA in 21 career games against the White Sox, scattered six hits, walked one, struck out eight and needed only 112 pitches to go the distance. He also got Chicago to hit into four double plays, including three after Cleveland scored the only runs of the game in the fourth and fifth innings.
Masterson got into a little bit of a jam in the ninth, allowing two runners aboard with two outs, but he struck out Alex Rios looking to end the game.
"I felt like the point where we were at, no matter how good I felt, Rios was probably my last hitter," Masterson said. "So I'd better get him out."
Catcher Yan Gomes led the offense for Cleveland, going 3-for-4. Left fielder Michael Brantley went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and Drew Stubbs finished 2-for-5 with an RBI double in the ninth.
Sale (5-7) took the loss but was nearly as impressive. The hard-throwing left-hander struck out 10 and lasted eight innings, throwing 80 of his 123 pitches for strikes. He only walked one and allowed seven hits, but five of those hits were part of Cleveland's rallies in the middle innings.
The Indians tacked on a run with three hits in the ninth against three Sox relievers for insurance.
"He's pitching fine," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Sale. "It's tough luck, but you see the stretch he's been on with the strikeouts and getting to eight innings. It's tough luck. You run into a guy that kind of carves us up, it's frustrating."
Cleveland took a 2-0 lead on three hits against Sale in the fourth, highlighted by Ryan Raburn's RBI double. The Indians extended it to 3-0 an inning later on two hits and a fielder's choice grounder that scored Brantley.
Until those two innings, Sale was nearly untouchable.
"He got, I think, 14 ground-ball outs and even when he pitched out of the stretch, he got four double plays," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Masterson. "Once he got through the first inning, then he kicked it in gear and started getting his velocity back up and using all his pitches. He was terrific."
NOTES: Hahn discussed the growing speculation the team is close to cleaning house with trades a month before baseball's trade deadline. "As we sit here right now, our strong preference is that we start rattling off a winning streak that gets us right back in the thick of this thing," Hahn said. "We feel the talent's there and the upside remains there. Stranger things have happened. If that does happen, then we're going to return to our accustomed role at the deadline, and that is looking to add guys and continue that run." ... White Sox 1B/DH Paul Konerko didn't start for the sixth straight game with back soreness, but after the team's day off on Monday, he plans to play Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles. ... Cleveland didn't have starting CF Michael Bourn on Sunday. He flew home to be with his expectant wife, who's close to giving birth. Bourn is also expected to miss Tuesday's game against the Royals in Kansas City before rejoining the team. The Indians recalled LHP Nick Hagadone to take Bourn's spot on the roster. ... Cleveland 2B Jason Kipnis took a scheduled day off despite having a 12-game hitting streak going.