Fourteen final thoughts after a top-of-the-ninth rally turned into a buzz-killing loss at U.S. Cellular Field.
1. John Axford was sitting at his locker in a T-shirt and shorts, postponing his shower as he waited to talk. The new Indians closer had just blown his first save of the season in five chances and he he knew he needed to show accountability. If the measure of a man is what he does when he fails, not when he succeeds, Axford past his first test.
2. Axford spoke for about a minute and admitted he didn’t do his job. He’d had some anxious moments in the four saves he’d recorded this season, but nothing as dramatic as walking leadoff hitter Jordan Danks, then giving up a two-run walk-off home run to White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez had already singled, hitting safely in all 13 of the White Sox games. Then with one out in the ninth, Ramirez got hold of Axford’s first pitch and drilled it to left field for his third homer of the season. It marked the first walk-off home run given up by the Indians since Vinnie Pestano allowed one by the Twins' Justin Morneau on Sept. 9, 2012 in Minnesota.
3. “Everybody knows me as an aggressive hitter,” Ramirez said. “I’m going to go for a good pitch, I’m going to go looking for a good pitch to hit. And when I get it, I’m going to swing at it and that’s what happened. I got a good pitch. He’s definitely a really good pitcher. He just left a pitch up there and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
4. The Indians won’t doubt Axford after one blown save. Chris Perez had five last year in 30 chances. But after saving 46 and 35 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 and 2012, Axford is facing a make-or-break year. He’s trying to re-establish himself after losing his closer’s job last season (when he didn’t save a game). The Brewers traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 30.
5. “Nobody in this game is perfect,” outfielder David Murphy said of Axford. “You’d like to think that he’s going to have a zero ERA all year. He’s got nasty stuff. But this is the big leagues and every pitcher is going to get hit. It’s magnified because he’s working the last inning. He’s going to have a lot of success. Any time a day like today happens it’s always going to look like it falls on his shoulders. But everybody in here has confidence in him and knows he’s going to get it done pretty much every day.”
6. Indians manager Terry Francona said of Axford, “He (Ramirez) is a very aggressive hitter and (Axford) threw it probably middle-middle. He’s a hot hitter right now.”
7. All lamented the loss because of the superb performance from starter Corey Kluber. Even though Kluber wasn’t in line for the win, he dealt with two rain delays totaling two hours, including one of 45 minutes in the fourth inning. Yet Kluber became the first Indians starter in the four-game series to finish five innings as he went 7.1.
8. The White Sox managed only two runs off Kluber. Second baseman Marcus Semien homered in the eighth, drilling a Kluber sinker into the left field seats. In the fourth, returning from the delay, Conor Gillaspie singled, then with one out, Adam Dunn singled to left center, sending Gillaspie to third. Dayan Viciedo singled to short to tie the game 1-1.
9. Kluber caught a break in the bottom of the third when Dunn’s double to the right field corner bounced over the wall. That kept Jose Abreu from scoring from first. Kluber induced Tyler Flowers to fly out to right to end the inning.
10. “He used all his pitches, worked ahead. He just basically really pitched a really good ball game,” Francona said. As for the weather, Francona said, “Everybody has to deal with it. You show up and play when they tell you. You try to grind through it best you can. I actually think the pitchers, as long as they can get a feel for the ball, probably have an advantage. And Klubes was good from start to—again he made a mistake on a 3-2 (to Semien), but he was good.”
11. Kluber said he handled the 75-minute delay before the first pitch the same way he did the fourth-inning stoppage. “It’s something that we’ve all had to deal with at some point or another, whether it’s during a game or before a game,” Kluber said. “Same idea basically, try to find a way to stay loose, especially when they don’t make the call until that close to game time. You’re already pretty much up and ready to go. I had actually walked out of the bullpen, so you kind of reach that point and just try to maintain it so you’re ready to go once they do give you an official (start) time.”
12. Left fielder Michael Brantley is batting .292, but it was still a good sign for the Indians that he hit his first homer of the season in the fourth inning, tagging the first pitch from left-hander Jose Quintana and sending it over the right field wall.
13. The White Sox had to go home feeling much better than they did after facing the Indians a year ago, when they went 2-17. Going 3-1, they swept a series against the Tribe for the first time since Oct. 1-3, 2012 at Cleveland and for the first at home since May 25-27, 2012.
14. The Indians are 1-4 in their last five games heading into a three-game series in Detroit that starts Tuesday. They fell to 1-5 in their last six games started by left-handers (including Sunday) and are scheduled to face another, Drew Smyly, on Wednesday night.