CLEVELAND — The prize they’ve been chasing for months was right there in front of the Cleveland Indians.
Carlos Rodon wouldn’t let them touch it.
Rodon struck out a career-high 11 over eight dominant innings and the Chicago White Sox denied Cleveland a chance to win the AL Central title with a 3-0 win Sunday.
Blending a devastating fastball with a variety of off-speed pitches, Rodon (8-10) blanked the Indians on just two singles and easily handled the division leaders, who still haven’t wrapped up a playoff spot and have gone flat at the worst time possible.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It seemed like he got better as the game went along. He seemed to turn it up in key situations. He had it all. There’s a lot on the line for these guys playing on the other side. That’s a lineup that’s been able to rough us up and he responded.”
Rodon spoiled a big day for the Indians. Cleveland needed to win its regular-season finale at home and for Detroit to lose to Kansas City for the Indians to clinch their first division championship since 2007. The Royals took care of the Tigers 12-9, but the Indians fell flat and now must go to Detroit to try to wrap up the Central. The clubs open a four-game series Monday at Comerica Park.
That hardly mattered to the White Sox, who enjoyed their weekend as spoilers.
“They’re eventually going to win it, but we won’t be around to see them celebrate,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You’ve got to take pride in every game and every series so they’ll have to do it on the road now.”
Chicago’s Carlos Sanchez had two RBIs off Josh Tomlin (12-9), who matched Rodon for 6 2/3 innings. But the left-hander turned in his best outing this season in Cleveland’s biggest game. He struck out the side in the eighth before David Robertson fanned three in the ninth for his 36th save.
“It was real fun,” said Rodon, who has held the Indians to one run or fewer in five of his nine career starts against them. “When I’m going good, I’m able to drive the ball through the zone and attack hitters.”
Maybe feeling some of the pressure to wrap up a division they’ve led since June 4, the Indians didn’t get their first hit until the fifth, when Cleveland threatened to get a run across.
Brandon Guyer singled leading off and took second on a passed ball. Coco Crisp walked and Chris Gimenez sacrificed. But Michael Martinez popped to short right, not deep enough to score Guyer and Rodon struck out Rajai Davis.
The Indians couldn’t do much else against the 23-year-old.
“He’s a young pitcher and he’s getting better with starts,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We’ve seen a lot of them because he’s in our division. His off-speed is better, even his delivery is smoothing out, and like a lot of young pitchers that have talent, you’re starting to see him gain experience and he’s pretty good.”
Not only has Frazier hit a team-high 39 home runs, his two steals Sunday gave him the club lead with 14. Not exactly known for his speed, Frazier passed Adam Eaton, who missed the last two games after crashing into the wall catching a fly ball Friday.
“I told Eaton I was going to get him, so he better get healthy quick,” Frazier joked.
Frazier swiped second in the fifth, when he scored on Sanchez’s two-out single. He stole second again in the ninth.
“He looks like a fan ran on the field,” Ventura cracked. “I don’t know how to explain it, but It works.”
Before the game, players on both teams stood in front of clubhouse TVs and watched coverage of the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, killed in a boating accident.
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who like Fernandez defected from Cuba, sat quietly at his locker with his face turned from the room.
White Sox: Eaton will be examined when the team returns to Chicago. Ventura said Eaton is still bothered by back soreness.
White Sox: At a loss to explain his struggles since coming to Chicago in June, James Shields is 0-6 in his last 10 starts. The right-hander starts the series opener against Tampa Bay, the team he played for from 2006-12.
Indians: Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber goes for his career-high 19th win as Cleveland begins its final road trip in Detroit. He’s 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA against the Tigers this season.