Three runs in the first inning were to be the winning runs for Chicago, because the Indians couldn't solve Chris Sale.
When the White Sox drafted Chris Sale in the first round of the 2010 draft, the thought was that they were overdrafting a player due to short-term needs at the major-league level; the 13th overall pick is not usually a slot where future relievers are drafted. Sale signed quickly, and would make 21 appearances at the major-league level before the season was over. The next season, he pitched 71 innings in relief, even saving 8 games for Chicago.But even though Chicago traded Sergio Santos after the 2011 season, Sale would not be the White Sox closer in 2012. He moved to the rotation this spring, and made his first major-league start against the Indians tonight.
Sale is a stringbean of a man, listed at 6'6" and 180 pounds. But that thin frame managed to stifle the Tribe offense, though he faced a favorable matchup in his rotation debut. Partly because of two extra-inning games in the previous series and partly because of the starting pitcher, Manny Acta sat four of his starters, all left-handers, in favor of his right-handed bench. Michael Brantley, Travis Hafner, Jack Hannahan, and Casey Kotchman sat tonight, with Jason Donald, Aaron Cunningham, Jose Lopez and Lou Marson in their places. It didn't work, as the bench quartet managed just one hit against Sale (a second inning Cunningham single).
Meanwhile, Josh Tomlin, almost the antithesis of Sale, made his 2012 debut. Tomlin's velocity was actually pretty good, touching 90 at times, but a couple mistakes doomed him and his team from the beginning of the game. He allowed two homers in the first inning, the first coming from the first batter of the game, Alejandro de Aza. He retired the next two batters, but Paul Konerko reached when Asdrubal Cabrera couldn't get a ground ball up the middle. Had Asdrubal caught the ball, he should have easily thrown out the slow-footed Konerko, but instead Tomlin had to face another batter, and got burned, for A.J. Pierzynski hit a no-doubt two-run homer to right. Those three runs would give Chicago all the offense they would need.
The Indians would score their first run of the game after a scare. Shin-Soo Choo, who missed a large part of the 2011 season with a thumb injury, got hit on the same thumb in the sixth inning. This time, though, he was not seriously hurt, and stayed in the game. Choo then stole second and scored on Carlos Santana's single.
One silver lining to this loss was that the Indians largely avoided using their key relievers, even though Josh Tomlin only went five innings. Jairo Asencio tiptoed his way through two scoreless innings, Dan Wheeler got out of a self-induced jam in the eighth, and Rafael Perez threw a perfect ninth. So the Indians had ample opportunity to mount a comeback in the late innings. It never happened, though Jose Lopez would connect for a solo home run off closer Hector Santiago in the ninth. But it wasn't nearly enough, as Santiago would strike out Kipnis and Cunningham to close things out.