A week ago, the Cleveland Indians were in control of their own destiny. Now, they’re going to need some help to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Cleveland needs a victory in its regular season finale against the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox, and a loss by Boston against New York on Sunday to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox on Monday.
If Boston loses Sunday and Cleveland wins, the teams will meet at Fenway Park on Monday to decide the AL wild card. If Cleveland loses Sunday, the Red Sox get the wild-card berth, regardless of the outcome of their finale against the AL East champion Yankees. The Indians beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the 1948 AL pennant.
“I hope we can still sneak in there,” Cleveland third baseman Aaron Boone said. “Hopefully we can get it done and come in here and watch TV.”
It could have been so much easier, but Cleveland lost by one run for the fifth time in six games Saturday, jeopardizing a postseason that seemed all but guaranteed a few days ago when it concluded a 17-2 stretch.
But since dropping a 5-4 decision last Sunday in Kansas City—when center fielder Grady Sizemore lost a ninth-inning fly ball in the sun—the Indians have been sliding backward and can’t seem to stop.
Saturday’s loss by the Indians eliminated the possibility of a three-way tie for the wild card with Boston and New York—and an unprecedented two-game, three-team tiebreaker. It also gave New York the East because the Yankees clinched the season series against Boston 10-8.
On Saturday, rookie Tadahito Iguchi hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning as White Sox held on for a 4-3 victory.
“I’m kind of stunned at what has happened,” Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said.
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge scoffed at the idea that his team is choking.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Wedge said. “Look at what these guys have done, and the fact is we still have a chance to force a playoff game. You guys have written us off 25 times this year. I don’t think you have a right to say that when game 161 is meaningful.”
In their past six games, the Indians are 6-for-49 with runners in scoring position.
“Apparently, we’ve got to do something different,” Cleveland’s Casey Blake said. “Everybody is playing hard. Everybody wants to win in the worst way. It’s frustrating when you’re in the position we were in and you don’t get the job done.”
Elarton allowed five runs and 10 hits in five innings. He had been Cleveland’s top pitcher in September, winning each of his previous four starts this month while allowing only three earned runs.
The Indians’ suddenly anemic offense will be facing rookie righty Brandon McCarthy, who is fighting for a spot on Chicago’s postseason roster.
In a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, McCarthy lost for the first time in six starts, dating to May 27. He allowed three runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings.
Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen has made good on his promise that his team, which clinched the Central before arriving in Cleveland, would play hard in this series. Not only have they done that, but the White Sox have a chance to end the Indians’ season.
“They are the type of team you don’t want in the playoff because they can get hot and kill you,” Guillen said. “I don’t want to say it’s a great feeling because I respect the manager and the players over there, but I have been worried about them all summer.”
After resting seven of his regulars Friday, Guillen joked after Chicago’s win that he “might call Phoenix and see if they can bring in some instructional league guys.”
But Guillen went back to a heavyweight lineup Saturday, sitting only outfielder Jermaine Dye, who has sore legs.
Jon Garland allowed just four hits in 6 2-3 innings, and Chicago’s bullpen was able to hold off the Indians, who have lost a club record 36 one-run games, including nine to the White Sox this year.