CHICAGO -- Third baseman Mike Aviles put it best, saying that anytime White Sox ace Chris Sale is out of a game after three innings, it's a good sign.
Except this time around it wasn't because of ineffectiveness, but rather significant downpours that knocked out both starters after three innings. Despite Sale's forced exit following a one-hour, 58-minute rain delay, the Indians couldn't muster enough offense in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday night at damp U.S. Cellular Field.
"Anytime you don't have to face Sale it is a blessing," Aviles said. "Everybody knows how nasty that guy can be and is. The whole American League knows that. Anytime you get him out after three innings, usually it's because you did something good. In this situation, it was rain. We thought we could get to their bullpen, but their bullpen was lights-out tonight. They did a great job with men on base and pretty much kept their team in the game."
Sale looked as dominant as he did in his last start, a six-inning one-hitter against the Yankees, allowing no hits with four strikeouts and a walk in his three innings. Justin Masterson, meanwhile, gave up a run in his three innings, but limited the damage. He stranded the bases loaded in the first and gave up four hits overall, and left five runners on base.
"Masty had thrown a lot of pitches, but he managed to get out of there with just the one [run]. … That was encouraging, because their guy also had to come out of the game and the way he's throwing, you feel OK about it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Once [Sale] left, we had some opportunities. We're just not getting the big hit. We had some runners on. We had some pretty good opportunities. We just couldn't push that other run across."
What the weather giveth to the Indians -- a break with not having to face Sale -- it also taketh away.
"It's unfortunate. We thought the rain wasn't going to be here to that extent and you end up losing Sale," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "That part isn't good, but Scotty Carroll comes in and does a great job, three scoreless, and gets us to a point where we can go to some of the guys."
A temperature of 71 degrees at first pitch dropped below 60 after the delay. In the fourth, the Indians sent two balls to the warning track against Carroll -- Asdrubal Cabrera to center leading off and pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall to deep right-center with runners on the corners and two outs -- that were knocked down by the moisture-rich air.
"I thought they were pretty well hit, the one Cabby hit and the one Lonnie hit," Aviles said. "Once that rain came in, it's going to knock things down and keep the ball pretty much in the ballpark. Normal days, maybe it gets out, maybe it doesn't. It's a lot of ifs."
Normally, Cleveland's offense isn't the issue on the road. Entering Wednesday, the Tribe's runs per game average on the home and road were nearly identical (4.38 vs. 4.35), but its ERA away from home (4.66) was more than a full run higher than at home (3.64). This time, Cleveland's bullpen put in good work, but the offense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain.
The Indians didn't record an extra-base hit for the third consecutive game, just the 17th time since 1914 Cleveland has gone at least that many games without something more than a single. The lack of offensive production dropped the Indians to 9-18 (.333) away from Progressive Field, the worst road winning percentage in the American League. Despite eight hits, the Tribe went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
"It was more of not getting a hit when we needed it," Aviles said. "We had people on base, we had enough situations when we could have scored. We just didn't come through when we needed to. It's unfortunate, but sometimes it happens. There's a lot of good pitchers on the other side, too."
The rain started coming down hard in the third. Masterson said water sprayed off his cap every time he moved his head, while his jersey looked significantly darker than his pants. The White Sox took advantage, as Adam Eaton hit a grounder at Aviles, who couldn't see it through the rain and had it skip right under his glove. Eaton later scored on Conor Gillaspie's RBI single.
"I barely could see from me to Masty," Aviles said. "It was raining pretty good. It was one of those balls that skipped right by me. I know I heard it."
Once the rain subsided and the field with once again fit for play, the White Sox took a 2-0 lead on Gordon Beckham's leadoff homer in the fifth, a blast to left off of Mark Lowe, who hung a slider.
Other than Michael Brantley extending his hitting streak to 13 games with a fourth-inning single, the main Indians highlight of the night came courtesy of Michael Bourn, who made a tremendous leaping catch at the wall in center to rob Paul Konerko of a two-run homer in the eighth inning.
"It's one of the better plays you're ever going to see. And in a one-run game, it gives you a chance," Francona said. "As long as you have a chance, we'll win some of those. Even with the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, when guys make plays like that, anytime you have the tying run come to the plate in the last inning, we've shown that we can win those games."
Unfortunately for Francona, that chance never came. The Indians didn't got on the board until the seventh and could have had more. Chisenhall led off with a single and scored two batters later on Aviles' fielder's choice. With Justin Sellers at bat, though, Aviles was caught stealing on a failed hit and run, and Sellers struck out.
The botched rally was emblematic of the Tribe's struggles to score during its three-game losing streak -- they've pushed across just five runs -- following a 5-1 stretch.
"I think we're getting people on base, we just haven't gotten that big hit," Aviles said. "Last year, we got a lot of two-out hits, a lot of big hits. It just hasn't happened so far. Pitchers have been making their pitches and we haven't really gotten any hits out of it. Sometimes you've got to tip the cap. We haven't gotten the hits we needed to."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.