CHICAGO -- Terry Francona has always liked to employ an oversized bullpen and talked about its importance before Saturday's game. The Indians are carrying eight relievers, which is not one too many for this series.
After they took their lumps in the first two games of the four-game set with the White Sox, the 'pen put up nothing but zeros to bail out starter Justin Masterson and give the Tribe a 12-6 win on Saturday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
"The biggest thing was our bullpen. They were able to shut the guys down," said designated hitter Ryan Raburn, whose two-out, two-run single in the seventh turned out to be the deciding blow. "We haven't been able to do that the first few games, so for them to be able to come in there and shut the door, that was the biggest key right there."
Indeed, Cleveland relievers had surrendered six runs in 7 2/3 innings the previous two contests, but they shut down the White Sox from the fifth inning on. Josh Outman picked up the win by escaping a two-on, two-out jam in the fifth after Masterson's exit, following that with a scoreless sixth. Bryan Shaw notched a 1-2-3 inning for the Indians in the seventh, Cody Allen tossed a scoreless eighth and John Axford came in to seal the win in the ninth.
The Indians had hoped for a deep outing from starter Masterson after neither Danny Salazar nor Carlos Carrasco could make it through the fifth in the first two games, taxing an already heavily used bullpen. But Masterson was pulled in the fifth for Outman, who retired Adam Eaton on a weak dribbler in front of the plate.
The Tribe bullpen came into the game leading the American League with 38 2/3 relief innings and was forced to shoulder the burden once again. After Masterson allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings, the starting staff's ERA ballooned to 5.52.
"We just haven't been able to get deep into the ballgame," Masterson said. "I think we've all had glimpses of great things, and then we've kind of gotten unraveled ever so slightly as we've gone along. Again, and you look at it, too, been some tough breaks for other guys. You look at certain plays that go this way or that way and it could be a lot different story.
"There's no one to blame but ourselves, because then we continue to hurt ourselves and get in trouble. But I think after getting a couple starts under our belts, getting our feet wet, I think you're going to continue to see better things. As the weather heats up, I think we're going to heat up, too."
While the bullpen did its thing, Raburn cashed in during the winning rally to bolster his reputation as a Sox killer. With the game tied at 6 entering the seventh, Nick Swisher singled and Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley walked to load the bases. One batter later, Raburn delivered on a 2-1 fastball from reliever Daniel Webb with a bullet up the middle that scored Swisher and Santana to give the Indians the lead for good.
Raburn, a career .301 hitter against the Sox, now has 72 RBIs in 97 games against the division rivals, but he gave the credit to his teammates.
"Oh, nah, it was a team win," Raburn said. "To be able to be in that position to help us out, that's a tribute to our team putting us in that position. We kept battling and were able to pull that one out."
The Indians added four runs in the ninth for good measure, courtesy of David Murphy's three-run triple and Mike Aviles' RBI single. It was part of a 12-hit day for the Tribe, which finished 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"We swung the bats very well. We got on the board early, and then we let them right back in it, but we swung the bats and we stayed after them," Francona said. "We took our walks, we swung the bats, we hit the ball out of the ballpark. I thought we actually hit some balls to left field that were really well hit. Those weren't going to go anywhere today. It was a long day of good at-bats, and we needed them."
The Indians jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first on Brantley's two-run single, but the Sox fired back with four runs in the bottom half, helped by Aviles' throwing error on a botched double play.
That first inning was simply a sign of the seesaw battle to come. Both teams scored a run in the second -- the Indians on Murphy's leadoff homer -- to give the Sox a 5-4 lead. Swisher and Jason Kipnis put the Tribe back on top in the fifth with back-to-back one-out homers to right off Sox starter Felipe Paulino.
The lead was short-lived, though Masterson limited the damage in the bottom of the fifth. After loading the bases, Masterson induced a weak hit in front of the plate from Adrian Nieto, and Santana stepped on home plate for the force out.
Jordan Danks followed with a chopper to Swisher, who stepped on the bag for one and fired home, but Ramirez slid in just ahead of Santana's swipe tag, tying the game at 6.
"They're grinding out at-bats, Justin is very tough, we got him in some tough spots and he found a way out of it," Sox manager Robin Vetura said. "He's extremely tough on righties, so it was nice to get some lefties in there and be able to counteract that somewhat, but they battled enough to get somebody a win."
Said Masterson: "The guys have been great putting runs up on the board. Even our losses, they're putting up five or six runs, and I think that's a testament to where we're at. I mean, last year, we were a little streaky ... and there's going to be that time this year where us as starters are getting our feet a little wet, we're struggling a little bit, but I think we'll be OK."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.