CHICAGO -- Corey Kluber pitched efficiently and deep into the game despite two hours of rain delays. The Indians engineered a two-run comeback off White Sox closer Matt Lindstrom. John Axford entered the ninth with a one-run lead having gone 4-for-4 in save opportunities this season.
In other words, thing were looking bright for the Tribe at grey and soggy U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday afternoon until Axford had an off day for the first time with his new team.
Alexei Ramirez blasted a first-pitch fastball from Axford into the left-field seats for a walk-off two-run homer that spoiled Cleveland's late rally, prevented the Indians from gaining a split in the four-game series and gave Chicago a 4-3 win.
"We should have had that win," Axford said. "Kluber pitched an amazing game, especially for the rest that he took midway through [because of the rain]. Bullpen guys coming in, doing their job and then guys coming through in the ninth once again. We keep scoring runs like that in the ninth, we should win those games. Obviously, I just didn't do my job today."
The winning rally started when Jordan Danks drew a six-pitch walk. Axford said he tried to get Danks to swing and miss on some pitches just out of the strike zone and didn't want to "groove one in there," but he gave Danks credit for laying off the borderline balls. After Alejandro De Aza fouled out, Ramirez came through.
Axford said Ramirez, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a third-inning single, took advantage of a fastball that was supposed to be further in.
"He's a very aggressive hitter, and [Axford] threw it probably middle-middle," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Ramirez. "And he's a hot hitter right now."
The Indians took a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth with an impressive rally off Lindstrom. It started when first baseman Jose Abreu botched a routine grounder from Michael Brantley. Yan Gomes followed with a single, stroking a slider below the knees to left, and David Murphy singled to bring home Brantley. Mike Aviles then moved Gomes to third and Murphy to second with a sacrifice bunt. After Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to Abreu, Gomes hustled home when Lindstrom's 2-1 breaking ball got away from catcher Tyler Flowers.
"He went down and got a breaking ball. It was a good piece of hitting," said Francona of Gomes' single. "And then Murph lines one to center, Gomer with good baserunning on a ball in the dirt. We put ourselves in a position to win, which is great. We just lost a tough one in the ninth."
The start of the game was delayed for one hour and 15 minutes, but it didn't seem to faze Kluber, who pitched out of jams in the second, fourth and sixth. He lasted 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and no walks while becoming the only Tribe starter in the series to make it past the fifth.
Kluber has unfortunately been the summoner of bad weather so far this season. His first start on April 1 was washed out, so he had to make it up the following day in a doubleheader against the A's.
The rain was on and off through the first three innings before it started to come down hard following the top of the fourth inning, when Brantley gave the Tribe a 1-0 lead with his first homer of the season.
After a 45-minute delay, Kluber came back out to start the fourth. Conor Gillaspie promptly singled to right and later scored on Dayan Viciedo's infield single to shortstop, tying the game at 1.
"I mean, I should be used to it by now," Kluber said of the delays. "I think when you have a little bit of a delay like that, just try to do your best to stay loose through it, and hopefully I'm fortunate enough where … it wasn't too long and I was able to go back out there."
Kluber said he felt good about his stuff and came in with a mindset to attack the Chicago hitters. Having already surrendered a run in the fourth, he got out of a two-on, one-out situation by inducing De Aza to ground into an inning-ending double play. He stranded a pair of runners in scoring position in the sixth and started to cruise from there, until Marcus Semien blasted a 3-2 sinker into the seats in left that gave the Sox a short-lived 2-1 lead in the eighth.
"Oh, man, he was so good, even with the delay," Francona said of Kluber. "He used all his pitches, worked ahead. He just basically really pitched a really good ballgame."
The silver lining for the Tribe is how Kluber's start saved the bullpen -- which had tossed 12 innings in the previous three games -- ahead of an off-day that will be followed by a three-game set at Detroit.
"It was awesome. Everybody knows what he's capable of," said Murphy of Kluber. "His first few starts weren't the quality [outings] he'd want them to be. But what a great job he did today. [It's] unfortunate we couldn't pull that one out for him."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.