CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Indians' surprising season won't
be remembered for six months of stirring comebacks, scintillating
streaks or personal milestones.
Unfair or not, one agonizing week erased it all.
With the AL playoffs again in their sights, and just as
September turned to October, the Indians simply collapsed.
"It's disappointing," third baseman Aaron Boone said. "We
were so close."
Needing to win their home finale and hoping the New York Yankees
could win at Boston to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Red Sox
for the AL wild card, Cleveland lost 3-1 to the Chicago White Sox
The loss concluded a disastrous final seven days for the Indians
(93-69), who dropped six of their last seven games and barely
missed the playoffs. The defeat also handed the wild card to the
Red Sox -- a postseason spot that appeared reserved for Cleveland
just a few days ago.
"We played so well for so long, we were bound to hit a tough
stretch," Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia said in a somber Cleveland
clubhouse. "It just happened in the last week of the season."
After Grady Sizemore bounced to second for the final out,
several Indians lingered in the dugout, simply staring out to the
field as the sellout crowd gave the team one last standing ovation
to acknowledge a season few thought possible.
On his way to the dugout, Sizemore, one of the Indians' rising
young stars, tossed his helmet and yanked out his jersey before
being stopped by Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.
"I told Sizemore, 'Keep playing kid, you and your team had a
great season," Guillen said. "He's a player who is great for
baseball. The bad news is that I've got to face him."
Rookie Brandon McCarthy (3-2) took a shutout into the sixth,
Jermaine Dye homered and the White Sox tuned up for their
first-round series with Boston. Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday in
The White Sox (99-63) had already clinched the AL Central by the
time they arrived on Friday for a series that was mostly
meaningless for them, and many wondered how hard they would play
with their fate determined.
On Friday, they clinched home-field advantage throughout the
playoffs with a 3-2 win in 13 innings. On Saturday, they held on
for a 4-3 win, and Sunday they completed a three-game sweep to
finish 14-5 -- 9-1 at Jacobs Field -- against the Indians.
"We played these three games the way we did earlier in the
season," Aaron Rowand said. "We had so much stuff thrown at us,
but once we clinched, we relaxed and beat a very good team."
Cleveland, on the other hand, fell apart.
Entering last Sunday's game at Kansas City, the Indians were 1½
games ahead in the wild-card race and 1½ behind the free-falling
White Sox, who led the division by 15 games on Aug. 1 and were on
the verge of an historic collapse.
But beginning with a 5-4 loss to the Royals, a defeat that was
sealed when Sizemore lost a ninth-inning fly ball in the Missouri
sunshine, the Indians played more like the team that started 9-14
in April, not the one that went 39-18 since July 31.
"I don't know what happened this last week," Travis Hafner
said. "We just didn't finish it off."
Cleveland fans will look back and remember the clutch hits that
never came despite countless chances in the past few days. The
Indians went 7-for-56 (.125) with runners in scoring position in
the final seven games -- five of them one-run losses.
"We expected to win today. We expected to win the whole last
week," outfielder Casey Blake said. "When we really needed the
runs, they were hard to come by."
The Indians' offensive woes wasted strong pitching performances
by starters Cliff Lee, Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook. And sadly
for them, the Indians' turnaround -- they went 80-82 in 2004 -- will
be overshadowed by a stumble at the finish.
"We ended like we started," said closer Bob Wickman, who is
eligible for free agency. "We came up one game short. But the guys
should be very proud of what they've accomplished."
Trailing by three, the Indians tried to rally in the sixth as
Hafner and Victor Martinez hit consecutive doubles to pull
Cleveland to 3-1. McCarthy, trying to convince Guillen to put him
on the postseason roster, was lifted for reliever Luis Vizcaino,
who retired three straight.
Orlando Hernandez worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth and
finished for his first save since 2002 with the Yankees.
"We'll definitely get over this," Boone said. "The good thing
is that we'll go to spring training with a focus and a confidence
that we can do this. But now we'll go home and think about what
could have been."
Dye, who rested his sore left leg in the first two games of the
series, gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the first with his 31st
homer, a 409-foot shot into the left-field bleachers off Scott
Dye's homer gave Chicago 200 this season, making the White Sox
and Yankees the first teams in major league history to hit at least
200 in six straight years.
Chicago added a run in the second on Joe Crede's RBI single, and
an inning later the White Sox made it 3-0 on Paul Konerko's
Millwood (2.86) won the AL ERA title, edging Minnesota's
Johan Santana (2.87). Millwood is the first Cleveland pitcher to
lead the league in ERA since Rick Sutcliffe in 1982. ... With 36
one-run losses, the Indians are the first team to drop more than 50
percent of their losses by one run since 1971, when the Houston
Astros went 79-83, losing 43 by a run. ... Guillen hasn't set his
playoff rotation, but it's likely he'll go with Jose Contreras in
Game 1 followed by Mark Buehrle in Game 2. ... The White Sox have
won seven straight in Cleveland, their longest streak since July 1,
1959, to May 13, 1960. ... Chicago's 99 wins were its most since
1983, and one shy of the club record set in 1917 -- the last time
the White Sox won the World Series.