CLEVELAND -- A perfectly imperfect moment to summarize the last 14 games played by the White Sox came in the ninth inning of Cleveland's 3-2 victory Monday at Progressive Field during the night portion of the Indians' day-night doubleheader sweep.
With two outs and pinch-runner Eduardo Escobar at first, Tyler Flowers blasted the first pitch from Tony Sipp down the left-field line with plenty of distance on it for a go-ahead homer. The 92-mph fastball Flowers turned on sailed about 10 feet foul at the last moment.
Two pitches later, Sipp, who was working the ninth with closer Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano getting the day off, struck out Flowers to complete the first doubleheader sweep of the White Sox since July 24, 2009, in Detroit. This setback, coupled with the afternoon's 8-6 defeat, left the White Sox (13-17) with a 3-11 mark over the past two weeks.
Only two of those losses have been decided by more than three runs.
"We are getting frustrated with the close ones, the, 'Nice job, but you lose,'" said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, whose team slipped a season-worst five games behind the Indians (17-11). "It was one of those where you battle, battle, battle and they come out and get the last one right at the end.
"It gets frustrating. But I think the way it's going, the way guys are grinding, you can't fault them for anything."
In the process of their losing streak stretching to three games, the White Sox just might have found a candidate to replace Chris Sale as the fifth starter. Actually, they might have found two candidates.
Eric Stults came up from Triple-A Charlotte to start the evening portion of this twin bill, which was delayed by rain for one hour and 25 minutes, and held the Indians in check over six innings. The southpaw allowed just two runs on four hits, striking out four and walking four while throwing 107 pitches.
His only blemish came with two outs and nobody on base in the fifth inning. Stults issued a walk to No. 9 hitter Lou Marson, who then swiped second base, which was the first successful stolen base in six tries against Flowers this season.
Michael Brantley followed with a single to right to score Marson, and when Alex Rios threw home, the fleet-footed Brantley took second. That throw proved to be a big moment in the game, as Jason Kipnis followed with a single to right to score Brantley with the go-ahead run.
Stults wouldn't blame the conditions for the fifth-inning wildness, instead pointing to not bearing down with two outs.
"Falling behind, that's what hurt the most," Stults said. "I wanted to give them a quality start. I felt pleased getting ahead of hitters except for the two-out walks. That was the inning I wasn't pleased with."
This starting effort followed a stellar first-game relief performance by Jose Quintana, who was added to the White Sox roster as the 26th-man exemption for a doubleheader. Quintana was returned after the night game to Double-A Birmingham, where he is part of the starting rotation, but not before he hurled 5 2/3 innings of one-hit relief in his Major League debut.
Unlike a player who is optioned to the Minors and must wait 10 days before he can be recalled barring an injury, Quintana could return at any time. Thursday's off-day gives the White Sox a chance to skip the fifth starter this next time through, if they so choose, and won't need to use that fifth man until May 15. Quintana and Stults give them viable options.
"Those guys pitched well," Ventura said. "We started looking at it, and it's going to be tough to start mix and matching with the way they threw today, especially with the conditions for Stults."
Cleveland's Josh Tomlin set a career high with eight strikeouts in the nightcap, after Zach McAllister picked up his first Major League win in the opener. Tomlin didn't factor in the outcome, with the White Sox tying the game in the eighth on Alex Rios' single to right against Joe Smith (2-1) following the lengthy delay.
They could have scored more in the frame, but with runners on first and third and one out, Adam Dunn hit into a check-swing double play started by Smith. The White Sox also scored in the fifth but stranded Flowers at third after he got there with one out.
Cleveland pushed across the game-winner against Matt Thornton (1-2) in the eighth on a rally started by Asdrubal Cabrera's bloop single in front of Alejandro De Aza playing at no-doubles depth and Carlos Santana's broken-bat single sending Cabrera to third. After Travis Hafner struck out, Ventura elected to stay with the hard-throwing lefty against the right-handed hitting Shelley Duncan, instead of bringing in right-hander Addison Reed to face a left-handed pinch-hitter such as Shin-Soo Choo or Johnny Damon, and Duncan doubled home the go-ahead run.
"Cabby and Santana did a great job of setting that up," Duncan said. "The biggest thing is the job the pitching staff did today. We were without Pestano and CP. It made it even more special that we were able to get two close wins."
All that remained were the White Sox ninth-inning hacks against Sipp, who primarily serves as Cleveland's left-handed specialist. Flowers just missed, and so did the White Sox once again in falling to 1-6 over their last seven against the Indians and Tigers.
"Yeah, it's no fun to go through it," Ventura said. "But eventually, as long as you stay with it, you come out on the other side."