December 18, 2014

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Pluck and luck carry Indians to seventh straight win

CLEVELAND — Welcome to Ozzie Guillen’s world.
The Chicago White Sox manager has gone public with harsh criticism of his players on a number of occasions this week. Friday night at Jacobs Field, the Indians and their fans got to see why.
Guillen’s last-place Sox were en route to ending Cleveland’s season-long winning streak in the opener of a three-game series when it all went south for the South Siders.
Trailing by three runs through six innings, the Indians scored six times in the eighth to earn an improbable 8-5 victory that ensured their 4-1/2 game in the Central Division race would at least remain intact.  
Chicago lost for the 18th time in 21 games, dropping its 10th straight on the road.
In addition to eclipsing its previous season-high win streak, Cleveland improved to 20 games over .500 (77-57) for the first time this year.
“The guys really put together a great inning,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team won for the 12th time in 15 games. “We took advantage of some opportunities. A lot of things had to happen to put together an inning like that.”  
The Indians trailed by three runs through six innings thanks to a suffocating effort from Chicago ace Mark Buehrle, who allowed just two runs on four hits through seven innings.
Cleveland has been swinging the bats better of late, but wasn’t able to keep it going against Buehrle, who didn’t allow a hit until Travis Hafner’s two-out single in the fourth.
Buehrle, who struck out four and walked none, surrendered both his runs in the sixth inning on a single from Franklin Gutierrez and a fielder’s choice grounder from Victor Martinez.
The Indians asked starting pitcher Fausto Carmona to go it alone again, and for one of the few times this season, the young right-hander wasn’t up to the task.
Carmona was not himself, allowing five runs on seven hits and a whopping six walks through six innings. It was just the fifth time in 26 starts that Carmona has allowed more than three runs and the first time he walked more than five.
There were early signs that Carmona would not cruise. He allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach base, but none to score after striking out Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski and Andy Gonzalez.
The White Sox scored twice in the fifth for the first runs of the game, then added three more in the sixth to lead 5-0.
“He just wasn’t able to lock it in tonight,” Wedge said. “Ultimately, he still gave us a chance to win the game. It never really got away from him. That’s a separator in a game like this.”
With Carmona keeping the game from getting out of hand, the Indians scored two off  Buehrle in the sixth then waited to take aim at one of the majors’ worst bullpens in the eighth inning.
A Martinez single drove in the first run of the inning off Mike Myers, but the White Sox appeared to be out of danger when Garko hit a routine grounder off Mike MacDougal to shortstop Juan Uribe with two outs and two on.
Nothing was routine about the hop Garko’s grounder took when it hit the lip of the infield grass and ricocheted past Uribe and into left field to score Hafner and bring the Indians to within a run.
MacDougal walked Jhonny Peralta to load the bases, and for the second time in two nights, Kenny Lofton drew a walk that forced in a run, tying the game with another free pass from MacDougal.
Casey Blake capped the inning with a three-run double that provided the final count. Blake’s grounder was just inside the first-base foul line, skipping into the corner to clear the bases.
“I hit it right over the bag,” Blake said. “I was just hoping (first base umpire Laz Diaz) made the right call, because I had a pretty good look at it. We had a lot of things go our way. Sometimes you get lucky in this game.”
While Chicago’s bullpen was unraveling, the Indians were getting another sparkling effort from their relief corps. Aaron Fultz pitched a pair of scoreless innings before turning it over to Rafael Betancourt, who filled in for closer Joe Borowski to earn his first save of the year.
It was the second straight night that Cleveland won in improbable and dramatic fashion, bucking the disappointing trend that has followed them for much of the month.
“Sometimes nothing goes your way, like we saw for most of August,” Garko said. “We couldn’t catch a break. Now all of a sudden were getting some breaks.”
For the White Sox it was another lesson in futility.
“It’s getting to the point where you want to laugh,” Guillen said.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.