White Sox 3, Indians 1
Their season came to a stunning finish with a weak ground ball that even in its meekness had provided the last bit of agonizing hope. The Cleveland Indians' swiftest runner, Grady Sizemore, raced up the first base line with his curly hair bouncing, eager to keep the season and his team's playoff hopes alive. But Chicago White Sox second baseman Willie Harris charged the ball, threw to first and made the final out, barely beating out Sizemore.
In a split second, the Indians were done. Sizemore, almost in a daze, began to walk slowly toward Cleveland's dugout. He was almost engulfed by the White Sox, who had come onto the field to celebrate. Sizemore untucked his shirt, took off his helmet and lowered his head. He spoke with several White Sox players and then continued walking toward the dugout. In a show of frustration that is rare for the reticent Sizemore, the center fielder tossed his helmet to the ground.
"I had mixed emotions," Sizemore said. "It was such a tough week and a frustrating time. I wanted to come through and I didn't. A lot was going through my head."
With Sunday's 3-1 loss, the Indians -- baseball's hottest team for most of the second half of the season -- concluded their season with one of the biggest collapses in recent memory.
"We had played lights out in the month of September, but I don't know what happened last week," designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "Coming into this last week I thought we had it nailed down, especially how we were playing."
A week ago, the Indians had a 11/2-game lead in the wild-card standings, but lost six of their final seven games. Even a win Sunday would not have secured them a playoff spot: They needed the Boston Red Sox to lose as well. Hundreds of miles away in Boston, the Red Sox took a 6-0 lead over the New York Yankees on Manny Ramirez's three-run homer at 3:53 p.m. Only a minute later, Cleveland second baseman Ronnie Belliard struck out with a man on base to end an Indians rally in the eighth inning. Perhaps it was then that the season had truly ended for Cleveland.
That eighth inning had ended like so many had for Cleveland this weekend. The White Sox scored three quick runs against Indians starter Scott Elarton and Cleveland seemed doomed from the beginning. The Indians were just 2 for 20 with runners on base on Sunday. Since Sept. 25, the Indians were just 7 for 56 (.125) with runners in scoring position.
"This week wasn't our week to have that big inning," left fielder Coco Crisp said. "There's no blame anywhere. That's the game of baseball. Hitting all those home runs [earlier in the month], you know you can't do that every day."
Many of the young players seemed to take this past week as a learning experience. There were more smiles than expected in a clubhouse that did not empty quickly. Players shook hands with one another and congratulated themselves on a good season, despite the finish. But others did not want to think about next year quite yet.
"I wish it was that easy [to forget]," Hafner said. "It's just frustrating because you want to be in the playoffs so bad. We had a great season, but I would give anything to be in the postseason."
Perhaps it is much too early to start wondering where it could have gone wrong for the Indians, but a week ago in Kansas City, Sizemore lost a ball in the sun in the ninth inning, allowing the winning run to score for the lowly Royals. Cleveland's fortunes seemed to turn with that play. From that day, Cleveland lost all but one game in the final week. Even now, though, Sizemore said he refuses to think of that day.
"I don't really look back," he said. "I don't think you can control anything that's happened."
As Sizemore headed to the dugout after the final out, the Jacobs Field crowd -- which had showed up sparingly this season but filled the park this weekend -- began to applaud. The fans then gave a standing ovation to their Indians, who had turned a dull season into a thriller, even though it did not end well. Reliever Bob Wickman came out of the dugout and tossed baseballs into the crowd.
But Sizemore ignored the cheers, walking, with his head and shoulders slumped, into the dugout and disappearing into the tunnel, too stunned by the loss to think about anything else.