CHICAGO -- Less than a week after narrowly missing out on a perfect game, Zach Stewart's main concern on Sunday was trying to figure out how to retire the bottom half of the Indians' lineup.
In his first outing since tossing a one-hitter in Minnesota, Stewart quickly fell into a three-run hole in the second inning, and the White Sox never recovered on their way to a 7-3 loss to the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox are now a half-game ahead of the third-place Indians in the American League Central, but by splitting the four-game set, the two teams now trail the Tigers by 10 1/2 and 11 games, respectively. Chicago's deficit is its largest since May 7 when it was 11 back. Detroit, which pushed its winning streak to nine games, now has a magic number of seven.
"We played right into the Tigers' hands," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Basically, that's what we did this series -- kill each other while they continue to win. What are you going to do?"
Stewart retired the first five batters he faced Sunday, then gave up three runs on four consecutive two-out hits to the bottom four hitters in Cleveland's batting order. In his five innings of work, the top five hitters in the Indians' lineup went just 2-for-13 against the right-hander, while the bottom four went 5-for-8.
"It was just one of those things," said Stewart, who didn't allow another run after the second. "I caught a couple bad breaks in the second and after that I didn't make the pitches I needed to. I was happy with the next few innings after that, though, just keeping them where they were and giving us a chance."
Unfortunately for the 22,319 in attendance, the scene for the rest of the ballgame was all too familiar, as the White Sox fell to 33-39 at home. With their 40-33 road record, the White Sox have the largest road-to-home victory differential of any team in the AL.
"[We're a] very bad team with the white uniform," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I don't know why. I don't know the differential in runs scored. I think we swing the bat way better on the road, and this supposed to be a pretty good hitting ballpark. We're not taking advantage of that."
While the numbers don't show much of a differential -- 289 runs in 72 home games compared to 301 in 73 road games -- the White Sox have been missing out on the timely hits at home all season.
One day after leaving the bases loaded four times before hitting a walk-off grand slam, the White Sox again left the bags full in a crucial fourth inning Sunday. With the Indians clinging to a 3-2 lead, starter Ubaldo Jimenez walked three batters in the inning to load the bases. But Jimenez, who allowed two runs over six innings, managed to escape the inning unscathed, retiring Gordon Beckham on a ground out to end the frame.
"We continue to leave people on base," Guillen said. "Jimenez throws 100 pitches. The pitching coach went out there almost every other inning. But we don't have the big hit. We had the people on base and worked the count pretty well, but we came up short."
Even after missing out on their bases-loaded opportunity and Luis Valbuena extending the lead to 4-2 with his first home run of the season in the sixth, Guillen's club found ways to stick around for much of the afternoon. Following Valbuena's blast off reliever Will Ohman, the Indians put runners on first and second with two outs for Jason Donald.
Donald connected on a base hit, but right fielder Dayan Viciedo gunned out Trevor Crowe at the plate as he tried to score from second. Crowe collided with A.J. Pierzynski on the play, but the catcher made the tag and held on to the ball as he crashed to the ground.
"Viciedo is a pretty good player, but a lot of people are going to be running on him because they don't know him," Guillen said. "They are going to send people to the plate. He has a good arm. The throw was pretty good. A.J. made a pretty good tag. It was a good play."
Viciedo then singled in the bottom of the inning and advanced to second on a two-out walk to Alejandro De Aza, but that's as close as he'd get to scoring. Brent Morel grounded out to end the threat, and the Indians tacked on three insurance runs against reliever Matt Thornton in the eighth.
The White Sox, after recording just four hits in the first eight innings, strung together three in the bottom of the ninth. As has been the case much too often this season for Guillen's club, though, the rally was too little, too late for the White Sox.
"It's on and off almost all year," Guillen said. "But I think this is the type of game I need [Thornton] to hold those guys out there. We came back in the ninth inning and had a little bit of action. I wonder why."
Paul Casella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.