CHICAGO -- Cleveland fought back to forge a tie game in the ninth inning, but was ultimately undone by its most glaring weakness all season: defense. An error by Mike Aviles opening the ninth led to a walk-off single by Moises Sierra, as the Tribe was swept by the White Sox with a 3-2 loss Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox started the winning rally against Bryan Shaw when Aviles, who entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth and took over third base, scooped up Tyler Flowers' grounder to third and threw it in the dirt. Pinch-runner Leury Garcia stole second, advanced to third on Marcus Semien's flyout to right and scored on Sierra's liner to right.
"Routine ground ball, play that's gotta be made, and I didn't make it," Aviles said. "I mean, usually make it, I'd say almost every time. But, for whatever reason, I threw the ball and didn't have anything behind it. Just messed it up, I guess."
With Aviles' error and the ensuing rally, a 10-game stretch that at first looked promising hit rock bottom. After sweeping first-place Detroit at home and splitting a four-game set with Baltimore, the Tribe looked mostly flat against the White Sox.
The Indians scored just five runs in the three-game set, and Aviles' error wasn't the first in the series that led to damaging runs. A two-out error by Lonnie Chisenhall on Monday opened the door for a three-run homer in a 6-2 series-opening loss. Wednesday's tough loss, meanwhile, put the Tribe (24-30) six games under .500, matching the low-water mark for the season.
"That's baseball. Two steps forward, two steps back," said designated hitter Jason Giambi. "This game is tough. It's not easy. Sometimes you get momentum. Sometimes you fall back. The biggest thing is we have to keep our heads up and keep playing baseball. It'll come around. You just hope that you don't fall too far behind."
Down to their final strike, the Indians clawed back in the ninth. Michael Brantley picked up his second hit of the night to lead off the inning and reached second on Jason Kipnis' groundout to first. Kipnis chopped one to Adam Dunn, who stepped on the bag for one but overshot second base on the throw while attempting to complete a double play. Two batters later, Yan Gomes stroked a 2-2 pitch from closer Ronald Belisario into right to score Brantley.
"Even on the road, having it tied is better than being down," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the late rally. "But when you're on the road, you're a mistake away from something. We didn't convert the first ground ball and we end up -- we were on the road. You make a mistake [and] that's what has a chance of happening."
Dunn gave the White Sox a brief lead with a sacrifice fly against Cody Allen in the eighth.
Indians starter T.J. House started the game off in dominant fashion, retiring the first 10 hitters he faced. He said he had everything working in his second start of the season after he was knocked around by Baltimore on Friday to the tune of five earned runs in six innings. His role wasn't defined until the start, which came six days after he tossed an inning out of the bullpen.
"I think it was comfort in the fact that I've already been out there and this is the second go-round and I had … not as much anxiety as I did the first time, and definitely just with the preparation," said House, who allowed one earned run with eight strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings. "Knowing that I was able to have my five days, was able to do my routine, get a good game plan with these guys and go right after that."
The White Sox put two runners on against House in both the fourth and fifth innings, both times he danced out of danger, punctuating the fifth by striking out the side.
Chicago chased House after just 87 pitches and back-to-back singles to open the seventh by Dunn and Alexei Ramirez. With two outs, Semien delivered an RBI single up the middle off Scott Atchison that knotted the game at 1.
"I thought he was tremendous," Francona said of House. "He pounded the zone, both sides of the plate, worked down, worked quick. He was really good. That was, on a night that we're going home pretty frustrated, that was about as an encouraging a start as you'll see."
The Tribe took a 1-0 lead in the second on the 440th homer of Giambi's career, a line shot to right.
Other than that, the offense was ineffective against White Sox starter Hector Noesi. After David Murphy led off the third with a single, nine straight Indians went down. They threatened in the sixth with a one-out single by Bourn and a two-out single by Brantley, extending his hitting streak to 14, but Kipnis grounded out to first to strand the pair.
"He was locating. He was throwing his changeup," Giambi said of Noesi. "That was just the one mistake he made, he left it up. He hit both the inside corner and outside corner. He did a nice job. You have to tip your cap. He threw the ball great tonight."
"That's what I want, that's what I'm working hard for, [going] deeper," Noesi said. "I want to throw a complete game and maybe it's going to take a few weeks, but I'm trying to get that and go deeper every time."
With Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana on the DL -- even if those two aren't hitting -- Cleveland's margin for error is razor thin because of its difficulty scoring runs, making the mistakes by Aviles and Chisenhall stick out that much more.
With a 2-5 showing on the road trip, an off-day on Thursday in Cleveland followed by a six game homestand at Progressive Field -- where the Indians are an American League-best 15-11 -- comes at just the right time.
"Yeah, it'll be good for us," Francona said. "Everybody's dragging a little bit, and we need to go home and take the day off, use it to our advantage and then come out and get after it."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.