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OAK@CLE: Brantley launches a solo shot to right field

CLEVELAND -- Really, what could they say? The Indians had been outscored by 24 runs in a three-game series in which they didn't notch a single hit with a runner in scoring position. Their Sunday bid for some semblance of respectability in a lost weekend at Progressive Field was instead marked by flat bats, a walloped ace and gloves that remained anything but golden.

"We got embarrassed," said Michael Bourn, "on our home field."

Well, yes, they could say that. And after this 13-3 Sunday shellacking at the hands of the A's, whose Major League-best run differential experienced a significant spike in the course of their Cleveland stay, a few more things can also be said.

The Indians are six games under .500. Furthermore, they are about to host the A's primary competition for the title of "Hottest Team in Baseball," and it just so happens to be a Tigers team with an early stranglehold on the American League Central standings.

At the conclusion of Sunday's game, the Indians' deficit in those standings had reached the dreaded double-digit mark, and their spot in the basement of said standings felt frustratingly fitting and familiar.

"What we're doing, right now," said manager Terry Francona, "is not good enough. We've got to play better, and we've got to have these guys more prepared."

Francona reluctantly reconfigured his lineup in advance of the series finale, the latest and most visible signal of desperation from a manager running out of answers to all that ails his ballclub. He dropped the struggling Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana down to the Nos. 6 and 7 spots of the lineup. He even gave Ryan Raburn a shot in the cleanup spot because, well, why not?

But because the game has a cruel and unusual sense of humor, big situations still found Swisher and Santana in their new, seemingly low-profile, batting-order spots. And, oh yeah, Raburn struck out with the bases loaded in the Tribe's last gasp opportunity to get back in this ballgame late.

That's the way it's going for the Tribe these days. And that wasn't even the worst of it on Sunday.

No, the worst of it was that staff ace Justin Masterson's inconsistent output in his free-agent walk year reached a new nadir -- a 4 1/3-innings effort in which he had no command of his secondary stuff. That only served to highlight the continuing conundrum of his lost fastball velocity.

Masterson, like Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister before him in this series, was afforded an early lead. And, for the third time in as many games (and, for that matter, the 13th time in 25 losses), striking first did not equate to having the last laugh.

The lead came via Bourn's leadoff homer in the home half of the first. It was short-lived.

In the second inning, Brandon Moss smacked a triple to deep left-center field, then scored on Yoenis Cespedes' grounder to third, on which the Indians were playing back and conceding the game-tying run. Lonnie Chisenhall's wayward throw to first, which allowed Cespedes to advance all the way to second, nearly set the A's up for another run, but Masterson got out of that jam without further damage. He also got an inning-ending double play in the third.

That, though, was basically the last anybody saw of an effective Masterson. In the fourth, he fell apart, walking Josh Donaldson and Moss in succession to open the inning to set up an RBI double by John Jaso and an RBI single by Josh Reddick, as the A's took a 3-1 lead.

In the fifth, same basic issue -- two on with none out. This time, Masterson got Nick Punto to line out to center. But a single by Donaldson and back-to-back doubles by Moss and Cespedes did the damage. The A's took a 7-1 lead, and Masterson was yanked out of the ballgame.

What could he say?

"It was pretty much what you saw," Masterson said. "Not a lot of good words for it."

Fair enough. But Francona delved a little deeper.

"He had a hard time with his slider," Francona said. "So he was kind of relying on one pitch, and there was a lot of traffic."

The traffic continued when Oakland tacked on a pair against Josh Outman in the sixth. The Indians got a little traffic of their own in response, thanks to embattled A's reliever Jim Johnson's sixth-inning wildness. The Tribe loaded 'em up on two walks and a hit by pitch, and Michael Brantley -- who hit a solo shot in the fifth -- drew a two-out walk to make it 9-3. But Fernando Abad came on to strike out Raburn and prevent that inning from becoming an eruption.

Anyway, the A's weren't even done. They scored an unearned run in the seventh, when Swisher bobbled yet another easy out at first to open the door, plus three more runs in the eighth. They were merciless.

"I tip my cap to that team," Bourn said of the A's. "It's easy, when you've got a series win [in hand], to roll over. They didn't do that at all. They beat us, hands down, in every facet of the game."

The Indians have plenty of facets to clean up, from their lack of clutch hitting to their inconsistent starting efforts to their porous gloves.

And, they preferably have to do all of the above by Monday night, when the Tigers arrive.

"It [doesn't get any] easier," Bourn said.

He could say that again.

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