White Sox 3, Indians 2
This is truly the most disastrous scenario playing out for the Cleveland Indians, an inspiring story in this baseball season that now appears to be facing a sad ending. Their rivals, the Chicago White Sox, had seemingly handed them a win by sending out a modest lineup that included just two regular starters. If there was a game to be won in this crucial three-game series for Cleveland, Friday's was it.
Yet Cleveland trailed early, made a stirring comeback in the ninth inning, was pushed to extra innings and squandered several opportunities as the minutes churned on this long Friday night, before finally having its playoff hopes perhaps dashed when Chicago first baseman Ross Gload, one of those unknown hitters in the lineup, sent a two-run double to right-center in the 13th inning against reliever Fernando Cabrera, giving the White Sox a 3-2 win. Chicago clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We have two games left and these guys have stepped it up all year," Indians Manager Eric Wedge said. "They have been mentally tough. I just have a strong belief in every individual in that locker room."
Yet there weren't many Indians in the locker room shortly after the game. The loss seemed so devastating the clubhouse cleared after only 20 minutes. The Indians, who have lost four of five, now trail the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees by one game.
"We'll bounce back, as tough as this one is to swallow," Indians third baseman Aaron Boone said. "I don't worry about us bouncing back."
The unheralded Chicago lineup was taped to a wall in the clubhouse with names, two known and seven unknown, written in with a black felt-tip pen in almost perfect manuscript. On top of the card was the official mark of Major League Baseball, ensuring that no matter how unusual it seemed, this was in fact the lineup of the White Sox and not one of Chicago's minor league affiliates.
"Why did I make the lineup like that?" White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said. "You want to hear the truth? Because I'm the manager."
Guillen then burst into a cackle.
"A couple guys need rest," Guillen said. "They've been playing a lot of baseball. I've got to give some guys a day off. That's the reason why I made the lineup like that. Hey, I've got to rest my players. Tomorrow will be the regular lineup."
Friday's lineup made it evident that this three-game series between the White Sox and the Indians meant more for one team than the other. For Guillen, this was the opportunity to exhale after what appeared to be a laugher of a division chase suddenly turned hot in the final month. On Thursday afternoon, the White Sox finally clinched the American League Central Division title. On Thursday night they celebrated. On Friday they rested.
"Our manager is doing his best to win the game and to prepare his team for the playoffs," White Sox General Manager Ken Williams said.
Cleveland got a scare in the first inning when the first two White Sox batters reached base against Kevin Millwood, who entered the game tied for the ERA lead in the American League.
But instead of Carl Everett and Paul Konerko, Millwood faced Ross Gload and Joe Borchard and retired both easily. The third out came on a meek ground ball by Joe Crede, who was one of the two regulars in the lineup. Millwood retired 13 consecutive batters before allowing three consecutive singles in the fifth that gave Chicago a 1-0 lead.
"Sometimes, it's tougher to face guys you don't really know," said Millwood, who pitched seven innings. "I think I faced three or four of those guys in the past."
For all the controversy about Chicago's lineup, it was Cleveland who could not plate a run and hardly even threatened White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who pitched 52/3 innings and allowed just three hits. Cleveland had just nine hits on the night.
The Indians tied the game in the ninth with a ground ball by Jose Hernandez, scoring pinch runner Franklin Gutierrez. But the Indians could not score a run in the 11th and 12th innings despite having runners on base. Cleveland left the bases loaded in the 11th.
"It's frustrating, no question about it," Boone said. "As good as our pitchers did to not be able to cash in is frustrating."
So this comeback was not complete, even with a home run in the bottom of the 13th by Ron Belliard, and the Indians, the feel-good story of this baseball season, were on the brink of elimination.