Sheldon Ocker

NEW YORK: The Indians need help right now. They have lost five in a row for the first time this season, plummeting to .500, a plateau to which they had not sunk since April 18, when they were 5-5.

The Chicago White Sox lead the Central Division by 2½ games over the Tribe in the wake of the New York Yankees’ three-game sweep of a series that ended with their 5-4 win Wednesday in the Bronx.

Manager Manny Acta tried to put smiley face on the latest defeat by pointing out that his team was competitive for the entire game and even had the lead, which is to say if they hadn’t played all nine of those silly innings, the Indians might have come out on top.

“We battled until the end but fell short,” Acta said. “I liked our at-bats today, especially at the end of the game. That was encouraging. We’re just going through a tough stretch right now, and we have to ride it out and keep our heads up.”

Unfortunately for the Tribe, baseball is a bottom-line game. You win or you lose. At the end of the day, nothing much else matters.

If the game had ended after five innings, the Indians would have won 3-2. But Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a two-run homer to Robinson Cano in the sixth and the Yankees added a run in the ninth off Vinnie Pestano, of all people, to keep the Tribe at bay.

Acta praised Jimenez for keeping the Indians in the game, but it would have been nice had he not given up Cano’s two-run bomb one inning after his team had taken the lead, though Acta was having none of that kind of talk.

“He threw well, man,” Acta said. “I am very happy to see the way Justin [Masterson] and Ubaldo have pitched in their last five starts. That is what we wanted from those guys, so Ubaldo is on the right track.”

Jimenez (7-6, 4.69 ERA) certainly has been more effective in his past five outings than he was earlier in the season. In this recent span, he has averaged more than 6? innings per start and compiled a 2.78 ERA.

He had no apologies for the offending pitch to Cano, who did a good job tracking it and going the other way, all the way over the left-field wall.

“The pitch wasn’t even a mistake,” Jimenez said. “He just hit it. He’s a great hitter. It was a back-door slider off the plate. I saw the replay. You could say he hit it with one arm and it still went out. It was a really good pitcher’s pitch.

“I tried to get him off the plate by throwing inside then go outside, which is what I did. I executed the pitch.”

And Cano executed Jimenez. It happens.

As usual, the Indians’ offense did not lead the charge, failing to take advantage of its opportunities with runners on base. But at least the Tribe put runners on base, which it hasn’t done much of lately.

Even when Casey Kotchman’s hard ground ball fractured Andy Pettitte’s left ankle, the Indians’ attack was unable to spoil the day for the Yankees bullpen.

Kotchman’s smash skipped off Pettitte’s ankle at the outset of the fifth inning. Pettitte stayed in the game to throw one more pitch but was forced to leave.

His foot was placed in a boot, and he will be on crutches for awhile. The team announced that he will return to the mound no sooner than six weeks from now, but he probably will not need surgery.

The Indians scored twice during the inning on Lou Marson’s infield hit, Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI single, and Jason Kipnis’ run-scoring bloop single just out of the reach of Jayson Nix at short.

But the Tribe left a runner on second with none out in the second inning, stranded runners on first and third with two out in fifth and was barely able to capitalize on a shaky outing by closer Rafael Soriano in the ninth.

The Indians did score when Soriano walked Michael Brantley with the bases loaded. Yet the game could have been won. The Tribe left runners on first and second with one out and wasted a bases-loaded situation with two out.

“I think this was a step in the right direction,” Kipnis said. “We haven’t been hitting with runners in scoring position, but we did get some hits today.”

The White Sox’s schedule gets tougher with four games at Yankee Stadium, three against the Texas Rangers and three against the Toronto Blue Jays. But the Tribe must play the Orioles in Baltimore over the weekend, then return home for three against the Los Angeles Angels and four against the Tampa Bay Rays.

No help there.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.