CHICAGO -- Vinnie Pestano wore the look of a pitcher who had just experienced a critical loss in a postseason race. The Indians have long been out of that discussion, but that did not make what took place against the White Sox on Monday night hurt any less.
Little has gone right for Cleveland over the past few months, but there has been one strength within the ballclub's pile of problems. The Tribe's late-inning arms -- Pestano being the primary occupant of the eighth -- have consistently locked down the sporadic trips to the win column.
Things looked lined up in Cleveland's favor at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night. The Indians got to tough lefty Chris Sale just enough, rookie starter Zach McAllister quieted Chicago's laboring lineup and the Tribe handed a slim lead over to its bullpen. In a 5-4 loss to the White Sox, it was Pestano's turn to have an off night.
"I go in there and I blow it," Pestano said.
The Indians (63-91) entered the evening ready to assume the role of spoiler, considering Chicago holds a one-game lead over the rival Tigers in the American League Central. Things were going fine in that regard until Adam Dunn used a pair of home runs to propel the White Sox to their first win in six games.
Pestano's problems against the White Sox (82-71) in the eighth began with a one-out walk to Dan Johnson and a two-out base hit to Kevin Youkilis. The breaking point, however, came on an 0-2 fastball to Dunn. Pestano's pitch was not in the same area code as his target and the powerful Dunn made the reliever pay.
"I missed all the way on the opposite side of the plate," Pestano said. "I wanted to come in and move his feet. I just pushed it up and out, right into his barrel."
The baseball rocketed off the barrel and carried into the seats beyond right-center field, setting off raucous cheers from the South Side crowd. Detroit won earlier in the evening, so Dunn's blast -- his 41st shot of the season -- saved the White Sox from slipping into a first-place tie.
The Indians added a run in the ninth, but the damage had been done.
It was a rare lapse for Cleveland's late-inning arms. The trio of Joe Smith, Pestano and closer Chris Perez in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings has helped the Indians go 21-2 when leading after six innings on the road this season. The loss knocked the Tribe's record to 25-1 when leading after seven on the road this year.
Overall, the Indians are 53-4 when leading after seven innings this season.
Pestano, who has a 2.44 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings, has played a large role in that slice of success.
"He's been terrific," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That's why we can't complain about him at all. He's done an outstanding job. A lot of the times, he comes in to set up the game and he gets the heart of the order and he goes through it like nothing.
"Today, just the walk to Johnson hurt him. And that 0-2 pitch to Dunn, we could've executed better there."
McAllister did his part for the Tribe, offering six solid innings against a White Sox club that has five games left against the Tribe this season. The rookie right-hander snapped off seven strikeouts and held Chicago to just two runs on four hits.
Alex Rios singled, stole second base and later crossed the plate on a fielder's choice in the fifth inning. One frame later, Dunn crushed a 1-2 offering from McAllister to deep center field for a solo home run to trim Cleveland's lead to 3-2.
"I felt good," McAllister said. "I felt like I had a pretty good fastball today and pretty good command for the most part. I didn't mix, really, as well as I would've liked, but I felt good with my fastball and I stuck with that."
Until Dunn struck again, the Indians were poised for a win against White Sox lefty Chris Sale.
Prior to Monday's matchup, the Indians had managed just two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings against Sale this season. In the latest meeting, the Tribe produced three runs on 10 hits in seven frames against the tough southpaw.
Cleveland first broke through with a two-out rally in the third inning, when Jason Kipnis singled to center and then scored on a double from Asdrubal Cabrera. In the sixth inning, Russ Canzler belted a two-run home run to right field that pushed the Indians to a 3-2 lead.
"We did a very good job against Sale," Acta said. "But we had a couple opportunities where we could've done more."
Maybe so, but the Indians felt confident that their bullpen would pave the way to a win.
"We expect that they're going to get everybody out like they have all year," McAllister said. "They've been great all year."
Smith held up his end of the bargain by striking out Rios, A.J. Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo for a swift seventh inning. Pestano's performance began with promise when he induced a flyout off the bat of Alexei Ramirez to get things started in the eighth.
The White Sox took over from there.
"We were struggling to score runs," Dunn said. "[Pestano] is tough, man. I hadn't been seeing the ball real good. He left the pitch over and it was one I was kind of swinging and missing at for about a week. Just happened to hit the barrel."