CLEVELAND — For a few brief moments, it looked like the White Sox were going to pull out an unlikely victory Monday starring Ivan Nova, Yoan Moncada and Ryan Cordell after getting manhandled by Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger.
The Sox rallied for three runs against the defending American League Central champions’ bullpen in the eighth inning to take a two-run lead, only to see it disappear under an avalanche of walks from Jace Fry, Dylan Covey and Caleb Frare and an error by second baseman Yolmer Sanchez.
The Indians did do something on their own in their four-run half of the eighth in their 5-3 victory — a double by Jake Bauers against Fry that put the tying runs in scoring position and a tying RBI single by Max Moroff against Covey — but most of the Sox’ pain was self-inflicted. Fry walked the leadoff man, and Covey did not retire any of the four batters he faced — one of them was Hanley Ramirez, whose soft liner could not be gloved by Sanchez — and walked in the go-ahead run on four pitches.
Frare replaced Covey and walked in another run to make it 5-3, and the Sox, despite having three strong outings from their starting pitchers in their first four games, find themselves at 1-3 to start the season.
Pitching seven innings of one-run ball, Nova kept the Sox in it against Clevinger. In hindsight, he would have been the better option for the eighth inning, having thrown 93 pitches.
“I wanted to go back out there,” he said.
But manager Rick Renteria, wanting to spare Kelvin Herrera of a third consecutive day and saving closer Alex Colome (who had pitched two straight days) for the ninth, went to Fry.
Fry — who walked leadoff man Leonys Martin, setting the tone for the debacle of an inning, and also allowed the one-out double to Bauers — could not finish, however.
“You can’t walk lefties leading off knowing you have the advantage,” Fry said. “You have to get outs as quickly as possible. This is really one to forget about.”
The Sox will have a day off to think about it before sending Carlos Rodon against Corey Kluber in the two-game series finale Wednesday.
“After you get that lead, you think, ‘OK, we got this,’ ’’ said Nova, who stayed as close as he could to Clevinger (12 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings). “But things don’t work out your way. It was tough.’’
It was grand for one swell moment when the Sox tied it in the eighth on Moncada’s RBI double against Oliver Perez, then broke the tie on Cordell’s pinch-hit, two-run home run to center field against Jon Edwards. It was Cordell’s first plate appearance of the season.
A sellout crowd hunkering down in the cold for the Indians’ home opener was silenced.
But not for long.
After Fry, Renteria chose Covey’s sinker as the best escape method. He walked Carlos Santana intentionally, hoping for a double play, and got Ramirez’s soft liner that Sanchez catches “99 percent of the time,” Renteria said. “Obviously, it started escalating from there.’’
The rest was blown-leads history with Covey, who had 21 starts and a 5.18 ERA in 2018 and is more suited for long relief than high-leverage eighth-inning stuff, in the middle of it all.
“You don’t do it with the idea that something’s not going to work,” Renteria said of that choice. “If we hold back from making decisions because we think it’s going to fail, I think that nobody would pull the trigger on anything they do. Basically, it didn’t work.”