CHICAGO — Josh Naylor snapped a ninth-inning tie with a pinch-hit single, and the streaking Cleveland Guardians beat the Chicago White Sox 7-4 in the opener of a split doubleheader.
The Guardians improved to 8-9 in games during their major league-high nine doubleheaders. They began the day just 1 1/2 games back of Minnesota for the AL Central lead.
Rookie Nolan Jones doubled to begin the ninth and Naylor, batting for catcher Austin Hedges, gave Cleveland a 5-4 lead when he singled to center against All-Star closer Liam Hendriks (1-3). Kwan singled in pinch-runner Alex Call and scored on Ramirez’s flyball.
“Nobody has to do more than they need to. Everybody kind of does their job, does their role,” Kwan said. “Obviously Nolan leads off, has a great at-bat and gives us a chance. It’s just nice to be able to rely on guys and not feel like you got to do everything on your own.”
Naylor is batting .400 (14 for 35) with three homers and 16 RBIs against Chicago this year.
“We’re never scared to give up runs or be in a tie game going into a late ballgame because we know that we have the confidence as a team to string together some hits and put some runs on the board,” said Triston McKenzie, who pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
Yasmani Grandal had three of Chicago’s 11 hits in his second game back after being sidelined by lower back spasms. Johnny Cueto was charged with four runs, three earned, and eight hits in seven innings.
The White Sox, looking for their second straight division title, dropped to 8-9 in a stretch of 19 straight games against AL Central opponents. They also fell to 19-27 at home after going 53-28 at Guaranteed Rate Field last season.
“There is still plenty of season to play,” Cueto said through a translator. “We can’t keep our heads down. We have to keep playing and take advantage of every day.”
Cleveland nearly wasted another solid effort by McKenzie, who felt a little queasy before the game. The wiry right-hander had a scoreless streak of 24 innings before Grandal’s two-out RBI single in the fourth.
McKenzie was in line for his first win against Chicago before Cleveland’s bullpen faltered. He was 0-2 with an 8.63 ERA in seven career appearances against the White Sox coming into the day.
Cleveland jumped in front with four runs in the fifth. Kwan doubled in Jones, Rosario singled in two more runs and Ramirez made it 4-1 with a sacrifice fly.
Eli Morgan replaced McKenzie and struck out Sheets for the final out in the sixth, stranding runners on first and second. But the White Sox pushed across three runs with two out in the seventh.
The White Sox had a chance for more, but Sheets left the bases loaded when he struck out swinging for the final out.
“We had three chances to get the go-ahead run, and they were able to make pitches three times,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It would be nice to play with the lead, see what happens. But that’s not the way it played out.”
Ramirez has driven in at least one run in five straight games. His two sacrifice flies gave Cleveland 35 this season, tops in the AL and matching its 35 sacrifice flies from all of last season.
Left-hander Konnor Pilkington (1-2, 4.24 ERA) starts for Cleveland in the second game, and right-hander Lance Lynn (1-3, 7.50 ERA) takes the mound for Chicago. Lynn is 0-2 with a 12.21 ERA in his last three starts. Guardians right-hander Shane Bieber (4-5, 3.24 ERA) and White Sox righty Dylan Cease (9-4, 2.15 ERA) meet in the series finale Sunday.