CHICAGO -- Jason Donald could sense trouble brewing. After a round of fireworks were done exploding over U.S. Cellular Field in the third inning on Tuesday night, the Indians third baseman stared up into the Chicago sky and saw a disaster waiting to happen.
The evening had already been nasty enough, with a steady drizzle falling and weather rough enough to warrant a delayed start to the ballgame. Now, while White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham rounded the bases following a home run, there was a significant amount of smoke lingering above the diamond.
"It's very unfortunate," Donald said following the Indians' 7-2 loss to the White Sox. "I remember thinking, 'If a ball gets in the air next pitch, nobody is going to have any clue where it is.' That goes for the infield or outfield."
Sure enough, Chicago's Alejandro De Aza popped up the next pitch from Ubaldo Jimenez, sending the baseball arcing high in the air above the infield. Naturally, Donald was the one charged with catching the fly ball. The only problem was that -- true to his prediction -- the third baseman lost sight of it in the low-hanging cloud of smoke.
By the time Donald spotted the baseball, it was too late. It dropped to the grass while De Aza sprinted into second base for an unlikely double. What followed was one of the ugliest innings Cleveland will likely turn in this season. It was that chaotic third frame, combined from another rough showing from Jimenez, that led to the Tribe's unraveling.
The loss dropped the Indians (11-10) into a first-place tie with the White Sox (12-10) and Tigers (12-10) atop the American League Central standings. It also marked the first time this season that Cleveland, which is 7-3 on the road, lost the opener of a road series.
In their latest lapse, the floodgates opened with what could have been a routine flyout.
"Right when it went up, I knew I was in the general vicinity," Donald said. "But when it was up there, I didn't see that thing until basically it was right in front of me dropping. It's frustrating that that kind of kick-started that inning, really.
"I really have no real god explanation for it, other than I think that's the first time something like that's ever happened. And probably the last."
There had been a warning shot fired earlier in the contest, though. In the second inning, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski pulled the game into a 1-1 tie with a solo home run off Jimenez. In the wake of that blast, the White Sox set off their signature wave of celebratory fireworks, which created the same type of smoky cloud over the stadum.
Following that home run, however, a few minutes went by before another ball was lifted into the air.
"We saw it in the second inning," Donald said. "Obviously, there was a lull and a pause after that one. The second time, there wasn't any lull or pause. After the first one, you'd think they'd stop it."
Call it a case of home-field advantage.
With the White Sox holding a 2-1 lead, and De Aza gifted with a rare infield double, Alexei Ramirez chopped a pitch from Jimenez up the middle. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera booted the ball for an error, allowing Ramirez to reach. Jimenez then issued consecutive walks -- one to load the bases and another to force in a run for Chicago.
Jimenez (2-2) was not about to fault his fielders for his own struggles.
"As a pitcher, you don't want to pay attention to that," Jimenez said. "You want to try to find a way to get your teammates out of trouble. That's something that I was trying to do. I was trying to get three outs. I guess I couldn't do it too fast. It was too late."
By the time the smoke cleared in the third inning -- literally, in this sense -- the White Sox had run to a 5-1 advantage. Jimenez, who threw just 54 of his 105 pitches for strikes, then gave up one run in each of the fourth and fifth innings, bowing out of the contest after 4 2/3 frames. The right-hander was charged with seven runs, but just four earned.
"We just didn't play good defense -- period," manager Manny Acta said. "We didn't catch a ball up in the air. We didn't catch a ball on the ground. We didn't cover the bases when we had to. Plain and simple, we can't afford to play that type of defense with the offense that we have."
The Indians labored to get anything going against White Sox lefty Chris Sale (3-1), who picked up a win after six solid innings. Shelley Duncan and Jason Kipnis manufactured the Tribe's only run off Sale with back-to-back doubles in the second inning. Duncan added a solo homer off Chicago reliever Will Ohman in the seventh.
Duncan's blast -- his third of the season -- ended the Indians' 11-game homerless drought, which dated back to the fifth inning on April 17. Between blasts, the Tribe went 107 innings and 387 at-bats. In terms of games, the power outage was the longest for the franchise since a 14-game homerless streak in 1983.
That home run was far too little, way too late.
But even Sale knew the White Sox had some assistance.
"I think when Beckham hit the home run," Sale said, "there was smoke in the air and hazy for a bit. It was hard to see the ball, regardless. And the smoke in there makes it tough."
It also made the loss harder to accept.
"It's very unfortunate," Donald said. "That seemed like it just added momentum to that inning. It would've been one pitch and an out. It is frustrating -- very frustrating."