CLEVELAND -- Clichés dictate that baseball is a game of inches, but the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians personified as much on Wednesday afternoon with the Sox losing for the fifth time this season, 4-2. Ending a three-game winning streak, Chicago left 10 runners on base and allowed three infield hits. In a game full of opportunities to pounce on the bruised and battered Indians, center fielder Adam Eaton failed to drop a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning that would have put two runners in scoring position with the middle of the White Sox order coming to bat.
With two strikes in the count, White Sox manager Robin Ventura kept the sacrifice bunt call on in hopes of setting the table for a comeback. Instead, Eaton fouled off the third pitch for a strikeout, partially pulling the rug out from underneath a late-game comeback.
“You expect him to be able to get that down,” said Ventura following the loss. “Even in the past he’s done it with two strikes, so he’s comfortable doing that. You just have to be able get it down and get it over to the third baseman and move everybody up.”
Eaton, batting .118, was 0 for 5 Wednesday, but Ventura iterated that his early-season struggles played no role in the decision to bunt rather than swinging away, and gambling on the speedy Eaton not grounding into a double play. Visibly frustrated following the loss, Eaton discussed his inability to step up when called upon.
“It’s one of my frickin’ strengths,” Eaton said of his missed bunt. “When he [Ventura] has confidence in me and I don’t frickin’ deliver, it’s shame on me. I’m comfortable in that situation and I appreciate the confidence that he’s instilled in me, and for me to not repay the confidence is crap, and I need to be better.”
Eaton’s out was crucial in the contest, but was just one of many bounces not to go Chicago’s way. Later in the same inning, White Sox left fielder Melky Cabrera hit a laser shot to the left side of the field, but it was speared by Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez, who turned to second base to record a fielder’s choice. Conversely, the Indians, who had been allergic to scoring runs in the previous 48 hours, were finally able to do put some on the board despite the ball barely leaving the infield.
White Sox starting pitcher John Danks allowed four runs and six hits in 4⅔ innings. He struck out three and walked two. The box score, however, did Danks little in the way of justice as misplayed bunts and beaten shifts led to baserunners who would have otherwise been outs. Two bunts in the bottom of the third inning -- one of which resulted in an error -- and a fielder’s choice of their own off of the bat of center fielder Michael Bourn led to Cleveland’s first run. As if the bottom of the third wasn't frustrating enough, the first of two runs scored in the bottom of the fourth did so thanks to an infield hit that deflected off the glove of Chicago second baseman Micah Johnson.
“We have to play better than that to win ball games,” said Danks, who was charged with the loss on his 30th birthday. “It’s baseball, so it happens. There are plenty of balls hit on the nose that get caught, so you try not to worry about it too much. But it’s certainly frustrating.”
Danks would have been in line for the win had the White Sox been able to capitalize on having the bases loaded with just one out in the fourth inning and the Indians up 1-0. Cleveland starting pitcher Trevor Bauer got White Sox right fielder J.B. Shuck to pop out to foul territory on a one-strike fastball and struck out catcher Geovany Soto with a 94 mph fastball right down middle of the plate.
“I think Johnny actually pitched all right,” said Ventura. “We didn’t do many favors behind him. A lot of miscues lead to runs and they end up biting you in the end. We had a lot of opportunities -- we had the one inning where we put some pressure on and didn’t get anything out of it. We just had a lot of guys we left on base.”
Despite leaving the bases full in the fourth, the Sox scored two runs in the sixth and threatened again in the eighth. But if the team could have one inning back, it would undoubtedly be the ninth against a shaky Tribe bullpen and closer Cody Allen, who needed 27 pitches to finish the game.
“It’s execution,” said Eaton. “With the team we have, it’s going to be key -- just execute. Go out there. When we have an out, get it. When a play needs to be made, when a bunt needs to get down, it needs to get down. When you don’t do that, you’re not going to win games and that was the story today.”