Bullpen unable to hold late lead in first-half finale

Danks caps resurgent first half with strong seven-inning performance

Bullpen unable to hold late lead in first-half finale

CLEVELAND -- Progress.

That single word seems to be a fitting way to describe the body of first-half work produced by White Sox left-hander John Danks, who turned in his 14th quality start during a 3-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field.

Danks no longer is the pitcher coming back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2012 campaign in August, and said postgame that he feels as good as he ever has right now.

In some ways, the White Sox also have made progress. They finished the first half with a 45-51 record, leaving them six games ahead of their 96-game mark from last season. Certainly not a perfect run and not exactly playoff-caliber baseball night in and night cut, but a clear-cut step in the right direction.

Then, there's the bullpen.

It's not fair to hang all of the team's first-half shortcomings on the relief crew.

After all, the White Sox have lost Avisail Garcia, Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom to injuries, and two-fifths of their starting rotation never panned out. But when Javy Guerra allowed a two-run homer to Yan Gomes in the bottom of the eighth inning after the White Sox had rallied to take the lead with two in the top of the frame, the club's bullpen fell to 0-8 with a 4.56 ERA over its last 20 road games.

Winning away from home becomes tough enough without consistently giving away games late.

"You'd like to be happy more than a half-inning," said White Sox bench coach Mark Parent of the tough, late setbacks.

"Myself personally, I've been there, I've done it. I need to learn from it and get better from it right away," said Guerra, who slipped to 0-2. "These little things can't happen. We have to win this game."

After Danks finished a quick seventh inning, getting to 114 pitches and trailing, 1-0, the White Sox erased that deficit against reliever Bryan Shaw (4-1). Conor Gillaspie -- who had two hits to raise his average to .326 -- singled off of Shaw and moved to second on a wild pitch with one out in the eighth. Gordon Beckham followed with a game-tying single.

Beckham moved to second on Tyler Flowers' tapper in front of the plate and scored on Leury Garcia's single under the glove of second baseman Jason Kipnis. Garcia finished with two hits and two stolen bases.

Danks allowed one run over seven innings, with Cleveland (47-47) scoring in the second on Gomes' single to bring in Ryan Raburn. Factoring in his seven-hit outing against Cleveland, with four strikeouts and two walks, Danks watched his ERA drop to 3.99 overall. Sunday also marked the 200th start of his career.

"I've stuck around a little bit. Hopefully I get 200 more," said a smiling Danks of the career milestone. "I feel like I'm a lot more consistent in the strike zone with better stuff. I like my chances every time out. But again, I'm not going to rest on it. There's plenty of stuff to improve."

This contest was as much about missed opportunities as a great pitchers' battle between Danks and Trevor Bauer, who set a career high with 10 strikeouts. The White Sox left 12 men on base and the Indians stranded 10, including the bases loaded during the second and sixth innings. The two teams combined to finish 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

Jose Abreu (3-for-5) and Flowers joined Garcia and Gillaspie with multihit efforts, but the finish was a familiar storyline: Good enough to get close but not yet quite good enough to finish because of Gomes' 1-1 approach on a decent Guerra slider.

"They're giving you a big hole the other way," Gomes said. "I was just trying to get a pitch to stay up top and drive it that way. Didn't think I was going to [hit a homer]. Definitely felt good."

The White Sox feeling was similar when Nelson Cruz hit a game-tying grand slam off of Guerra with two outs in the eighth in a loss at Baltimore on June 25. Or how about blowing a 4-0 lead at Fenway Park behind Chris Sale when Jake Petricka and Guerra allowed five runs in the eighth and ninth combined? Those are just two examples from an area where the White Sox need to decidedly improve when the second half begins.

"Everybody in the dugout feels like we're a better team than our record shows," Parent said. "We have to just take care of the little things and some key hits when we need to and continue for our starters to keep getting us deep into a game. That's huge."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.