For several innings, it looked as though rain would shorten this game, and it looked like the Indians would get away with a 2-1 victory because of it. It turned out that the rain would let up enough for the game to continue and the Indians would win anyway, but not without some drama.
The Indians knew going in to today's games that several relievers would not be available, including Vinnie Pestano. The back end of the bullpen had been worked hard thanks to a raft of close games, and they needed a day off. Unfortunately that day off coincided with a day-night doubleheader, but the two starters came through with decent or (in Tomlin's case) excellent starts. Because of those starts, the Indians had the possibility of winning both halves of the doubleheader; it would be up to the relievers who to this point had not been able to pitch in close-and-late situations to do exactly that. Nick Hagadone and Jairo Asencio combined to pitch the last three innings of Game 1, and after Josh Tomlin (and the rain) left in the top of the eighth, the Tribe bullpen just needed to get five outs.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Tomlin, who normally is effective through five or six innings, actually pitched into the eighth and was missing bats tonight. Which is even more surprising, because this was already Tomlin's third start against the White Sox, and his second in a row against the South Siders. Usually familiarity is Josh's undoing, but in this case he seemed to get better the deeper he went into the game. He gave up a fifth inning run, but as the rain started to fall, he retired the Sox in order in the sixth and seventh innings. With the field almost unplayable as the top of the eighth started, Tomlin allowed two base runners before the umpires, loath to pull the plug on a game in doubt, finally relented, ordering the field covered.
For the Indians rallied in the fifth, scoring two runs to counter the single tally in the top of the inning. Both the of the runs came after two outs, and started with an unlikely source. Lou Marson, who hasn't hit in the little playing time he's had this season, walked with two outs, and stole second with Michael Brantley at the plate. Brantley would then single through the right side with the infield, and moved up to second on the throw home. Jason Kipnis then essentially repeated the same play, singling Brantley home. After that inning, the rain started in earnest, steadily increasing as the game continued.
After Tomlin gave up the two base runners in the eighth, Acta pulled Tomlin in favor of Dan Wheeler just as the tarp was being pulled. Although other area in NE Ohio are still getting rained on, a window of dry weather hit downtown Cleveland roughly an hour later, so the game could be completed. Because of the hour delay, Acta had to warm up a different reliever, as it had been too long to go back to Wheeler. So Joe Smith was called upon to get the Indians out of the eighth inning jam. Smith was originally one of those deemed unable to pitch today, but between games, he told Acta that he could go in Game 2 if needed:
"I just came in and I told him I felt good before the game," Smith said. "C.P., Vinnie and me were all down, but I felt good. Vinnie has thrown a ton and C.P., for a closer, has thrown a lot this past week, too. I felt good, so I told him I could go."
At this point, Acta didn't have much of a choice now that Wheeler was unavailable. It would be Smith and Sipp to finish the game, and hopefully the game didn't go into extra innings. But after Smith allowed the tying run to score, it looked as though the worst-case scenario would happen. But the Indians fought back in the bottom of the eighth; Shelley Duncan hit a crucial one-out double to break the tie. Had the Indians not scored in that inning, they would have been at a severe disadvantage.
But even with a lead, they were counting on Tony Sipp to get the save, with right-handed hitters up in the ninth. Sipp was the reason Vinnie Pestano was unavailable, as his poor outing on Sunday forced Acta to bring in Pestano to finish the eighth inning. Now Sipp needed to finish the game, this time without a safety net. He retired Alexei Ramirez via a fly ball, struck out pinch-hitter Brent Lillibridge, and after walking pinch-hitter Paul Konerko, struck out Tyler Flowers to end the game. He ended up facing four right-handed batters in the ninth; to that point, right-handed batters were hitting .500/.550/.833 against him. So the Indians not only got away with using Sipp, they got away with using him against against an extreme split.