CLEVELAND -- The White Sox found themselves in an ideal spot early on Thursday night.
They led by three runs and knocked the opposing starting pitcher out after only one inning.
But same as they have most of the season, the White Sox didn’t take advantage of their prime position.
The offense failed to pull away from the Cleveland Indians and it resulted in yet another tough loss as the White Sox dropped a 5-4 decision in front of 12,982 at Progressive Field.
Tyler Naquin’s pinch-hit sac fly off Jacob Turner in the ninth inning helped the Indians to their ninth win over the White Sox in 12 tries. The White Sox are 20-24 this season in one-run games, including four losses on their 4-5 road trip.
“We didn’t add on,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “As hitters, we have to just keep going. We have to get them out of slam range. Get up by more than four runs, that would have been nice. Their bullpen did their job kind of and we added a couple on there, but it wasn’t enough there at the end.
“Just an emptiness leaving at all these parks. It’s tough.”
The most difficult part has been constantly asking a now-short-handed bullpen to pitch in closely-contested ballgames.
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The White Sox have done it all season.
Their 44 one-run games tied them with the Seattle Mariners for the most in the majors and the White Sox have played another 25 games decided by two or fewer runs.
But early on it looked as if the White Sox might pull away on the heels of Wednesday’s 10-run performance. Indians starter Danny Salazar walked three of the first four batters he faced and Justin Morneau hit a bases-clearing double to put the White Sox ahead 3-0.
Salazar exited after 34 pitches and gave way to the bullpen, which is usually a good thing.
Kyle Crockett pitched a scoreless inning and Steve Clevinger followed with four strong frames, allowing a run on two hits and a walk. He struck out four and afforded the Indians time to rally against Carlos Rodon and the White Sox bullpen.
Rodon threw strikes, attacked hitters and made the big pitch when necessary on Thursday.
He allowed eight hits in six innings, walked none and struck out five. He benefitted from four double plays, with one in each of the first five innings save for the third.
Rodon took a two-run lead into the sixth inning, but quickly found trouble when Jason Kipnis hit a one-out, ground-rule double to put two in scoring position. Rodon surrendered a run on an RBI single by Francisco Lindor, but got another big play from his defense to escape the inning with a one-run lead.
“Nobody is an easy out,” said Rodon, who has a 3.33 ERA in 24 1/3 innings since he came off the disabled list. “You get 0-2 on them and they seem pretty comfortable laying off the slider and work back in the count. They made it tough.
“Some big pitches made and defense definitely picked me up in the first and a few other times.”
“Definitely an empty feeling. All of us playing hard. We are leaving it all out there and it just doesn’t happen.”
The Indians scored a run in each of the last five innings.
Chris Beck and Turner, both of whom have been thrust into key roles because of an inexperienced group, allowed one apiece in the seventh and ninth innings. Nate Jones, who was summoned to finish the seventh, didn’t escape the eighth before he allowed Jose Ramirez’s two-out, game-tying single.
“They gave us an opportunity early by walking guys and Justin with the big hit,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “But after that their bullpen comes in and just kind of shuts us down.
“You’ve got to be able to do more with that once you get the starter out as early as we did.
“The way it started off today, you figured at least offensively gonna have something go your way.”