Rookie Aaron Civale, who hadn’t allowed more than two runs in his first nine starts, allowed four runs on consecutive homers in the fourth inning as the White Sox beat the Indians, 8-0, to all but end their postseason aspirations.
The Indians fell to 93-66, and their magic number to be eliminated from the American League Wild Card race by the Rays (95-64) is down to two. The Rays were off Thursday, but open a three-game series against Toronto (65-94) on Friday night. If the Rays beat Toronto on Friday and the Indians lose to Washington (90-69) at Nationals Park, their long journey back to contention will end short of their goal.
The loss dropped Cleveland two games off the pace of Tampa Bay with three games to play. Oakland (96-63) has a three-game lead over the Indians.
The Indians still have a chance. If they sweep Washington and Toronto sweeps the Rays, they’d win the second wild card spot outright. They could force a tiebreaker by sweeping the Nationals, while the Rays went 1-2 against the Blue Jays.
But another loss sends them home for good.
Manager Terry Francona was asked if his team, playing must-win games since early June, has finally hit the wall.
“I think it’s more mental, but we can’t let up,” Francona said. “The natural feeling is to feel sorry for yourself. We can’t do it. We haven’t done it yet and until someone tells us we’ve got to go home, we have to keep grinding. We have to find a way."
The Indians came to Chicago on Tuesday having won six of their last seven games. They proceeded to thump the White Sox, 11-0, to celebrate Jose Ramirez’s return to the lineup. Ramirez hit a grand slam in his first at-bat and a three-run homer in his second. But the next two games belonged to a rebuilding Chicago team that played the role of spoiler to perfection against the Tribe.
The White Sox won the season series, 11-8, with four wins coming during the Tribe’s September stretch drive.
“They don’t have anything to lose, man,” said catcher Roberto Perez, when asked about the White Sox. "They play us well. They always have.
“Losing two out of three (to Chicago), we cannot do anything about it now. They have a great team over there, man. They have good guys. I mean guys that are having great seasons. They just play us well.”
Thursday’s game did not start well for Chicago. Scheduled starter Dylan Chase strained his left hamstring during his bullpen session and had to be replaced. Reliever Luis Ruiz started in his place. The Indians had three hits against him in 1 2/3 innings, but couldn’t score.
Left-hander Josh Osich replaced Ruiz in the second and shut the Tribe down for 3 1/3 innings. It was Osich’s longest outing of the year and the Indians never recovered. They were outscored, 16-3, in Wednesday and Thursday’s losses.
“You can’t pick your spots when you’re going to get hot and cold,” Francona said. “We picked a rough time to go cold. . .It’s been two nights now where they’ve really shut us down."
Civale (3-4, 2.34) opened with three scoreless and hitless innings. Then he blew a tire. Yoan Moncada gave the White Sox their first hit with a one-out single in the fourth. DH Zack Collins walked and James McCann homered into the left field bleachers for a 3-0 lead. Daniel Palka followed with a homer to right and they could have ended the game right there.
“My command was kind of shaky from the start,” said Civale. “I got away with some things at the start, but eventually they made me pay.”
Civale entered the game having allowed just two homers in his first 54 1/3 innings in the big leagues, and had never allowed more than two runs while pitching at least five innings in his first nine starts. The White Sox ended those streaks, hanging a four-spot on Civale in 3 1/3 innings.
After Civale left, batting practice broke out for the White Sox. Jose Abreu tripled off Carlos Carrasco in the fifth to score Tim Anderson. Yasiel Puig dove for Abreu’s drive in the right field corner, but came up empty. Collins followed with a double to score Abreu as Carrasco was replaced by Nick Wittgren.
Palka hit his second homer off the night in the sixth off James Hoye. In the seventh, Hunter Wood allowed an RBI single to Collins.
The Indians were shut out for the 14th time this season as five White Sox pitchers combined on a four-hitter. The win went to Osich (4-0) as the Indians had one hit after the third inning. White Sox pitchers retired 22 of the last 23 Indians to come to the plate.
Rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.82) will face the Nationals and right-hander Austin Voth (1-1, 3.35) on Friday at Nationals Park. Game time is 7:05 p.m. with STO, WTAM 1100 and WMMS 100.7 FM carrying the game.
This will be Plesac’s second straight interleague start. He lasted 4 1/3 innings against the Phillies on Saturday and was not involved in the decision. Voth is coming off a five-inning no-decision against the Marlins in which he allowed one run on three hits.