CLEVELAND -- Anybody but Corey Kluber.
That's what the White Sox had to be thinking in the ninth inning of Sunday's improbable, come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.
After all, Kluber was Cy Young-brilliant for eight innings, setting a career high with 13 K's and setting a franchise record with seven straight strikeouts from the second out in the third through the second out of the fifth. But when Kluber hit the 110-pitch mark on Alejandro De Aza's groundout to second baseman Jose Ramirez to end the eighth, the Cleveland starter gave way to closer John Axford.
And the White Sox probably breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Nothing against Axford, who entered the ninth with nine saves in 10 chances. Kluber was just that good.
Axford had trouble finding the strike zone, walking Gordon Beckham on four pitches, and issuing a free pass to Adam Dunn one out later. Dayan Viciedo then made him pay, launching a 2-2 laser on a 96-mph fastball on the outer half into the right-field stands for a three-run, game-winning homer.
Both of Axford's blown saves have come against the White Sox. Both have come via the long ball, with Alexei Ramirez connecting the first time on April 13 in another game that Kluber started.
"It wasn't looking good," said smiling White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who watched his team's four-game skid come to an end, as well as an eight-game losing streak at Progressive Field.
"Our guys did a good job taking pitches and making Axford come in there with strikes," said White Sox closer Matt Lindstrom, who picked up his fourth save with a scoreless ninth. "You get behind good Major League hitters, and they'll make you pay for it sooner or later."
Viciedo was actually a bit miffed before connecting on his fourth career go-ahead home run coming in the ninth inning or later. With the count at 2-1, he disagreed with a strike call from home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg. It didn't take Viciedo long to channel his frustration into something more important.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit, a good pitch to make contact with," said Viciedo, through interpreter and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. "I think he made a mistake and I made him pay for it. I was glad I was able to do that. I knew as soon as I made the contact."
"Two walks, falling behind guys didn't work out in that sense," Axford said. "Two guys were on without even me really challenging them. It wasn't until the guy I challenged, who put the ball in play, that things didn't go well."
Jose Abreu gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the first inning by connecting on his Major League-best 12th homer. The White Sox had only singles from Leury Garcia and Viciedo over the next seven innings, with Kluber yielding three hits and two walks overall.
Following a De Aza sacrifice bunt in the third, Kluber set down Beckham, Abreu, Dunn, Viciedo, Ramirez and Jordan Danks swinging and got Tyler Flowers looking. Garcia ended the streak with a two-out walk, after taking a borderline 1-2 pitch from Kluber.
"Kluber threw a great game," Ventura said. "You are looking at some combination bad swings and swinging at stuff out of the zone. He was just cruising and we were pretty flat."
"We've just got to give merit. [Kluber] did a good job pitching," Viciedo said. "But I don't think we ever lost faith. I feel like we were in it the whole time."
Andre Rienzo danced in and out of trouble over 4 2/3 innings, but limited the Indians to three runs, despite allowing seven hits and four walks. Cleveland stranded two runners each in the second, third, fourth and fifth, with Zach Putnam bailing out Rienzo in the fifth by getting a Jose Ramirez ground ball with runners on first and second.
George Kottaras, who is with the Indians because starting catcher Yan Gomes is on paternity leave, went deep on a 3-2 pitch in the third to tie the game. Lonnie Chisenhall's bloop single to second scored Michael Brantley with a second run that inning, and Kottaras launched his second home run in as many innings by connecting on a 3-1 pitch in the fourth, becoming the first Indians player to homer in his first two at-bats with the team.
Sunday's top billing for Kluber and/or Kottaras was eventually swiped by Viciedo, with a strong assist from the White Sox bullpen. Putnam, Ronald Belisario, Daniel Webb and Lindstrom combined to allow just two hits over 4 1/3 innings, with 11 of the 13 outs coming via the ground ball.
This much-maligned relief crew has allowed two earned runs over its last 26 innings, covering eight games.
Their work on Sunday, combined with Viciedo's power, Axford's wildness and a never-say-die attitude, gave the White Sox a much-needed win going into four Crosstown Cup games this week with the Cubs. For at least one evening, the seven players on the disabled list can be pushed to the background.
"Badly need," Lindstrom said. "Badly."
"We feel bad for the guys who have been injured," Viciedo said. "That's a bad thing to go through. But the guys who have come in have stepped it up and done their job and that's a good thing. That's what team is all about."