CLEVELAND — On the verge of clinching the Central Division championship, the Indians were all set to party Saturday night with their fans at Jacobs Field.
The Tigers sent a gift from Detroit, losing to Kansas City to clear the way for an Indians win that would have brought Cleveland its first division title since 2001.
Only Rich Haren and the Oakland A’s weren’t ready to join the celebration.
With Haren working a solid outing and the A’s banging Cleveland pitching around all night, the Indians fell 9-3 in front of a sellout crowd of 40,663.
|LINDA MURPHY / CHRONICLE|
|Pitcher Paul Byrd and catcher Kelly Shoppach chat during Saturday’s game at Jacobs Field.|
“We didn’t have a very good day today,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team saw its four-game winning streak snapped, while losing for just the third time in its last 13 games. “Our guys have been playing really good baseball. Today, we just didn’t have it going on.”
The defeat prevented the Indians from clinching the outright division title, but they’ve still earned at least a tie with a one-game playoff deciding the champion, should it come to that.
Cleveland’s 7½-game lead over the second-place Tigers remained intact, with the magic number dropping a peg to one.
That means a Cleveland win or a Detroit loss today clinches the outright title for the Indians in their final game of the season at Jacobs Field. If it doesn’t happen today, Cleveland will have to do it on the road in either Seattle or Kansas City.
“You want to get it over with as soon as you can,” third baseman Casey Blake said of clinching. “You just have to look at it like it wasn’t meant to be tonight.
“Maybe this was a good thing for us to get our butt kicked, so we can turn up the intensity (today).”
The night had an ominous beginning where the Indians were concerned.
With the game scoreless and two out in the second inning, Cleveland allowed a popup from Mark Ellis to drop for a single, with Indians starter Paul Byrd, catcher Kelly Shoppach and Blake converging but none of them making a play on a ball that fell some 10 feet down the third-base line.
Byrd took the blame, saying he called for Blake to make the catch too late.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d have just run over and caught the ball,” he said. “It was bad quarterbacking. That was a big key to the game.”
Oakland capitalized on the mistake by stringing together three more hits from there, including a two-run double from Jack Hannahan to take the early 2-0 advantage. Things didn’t get much better from there for Byrd, who lasted just 41/3 innings, allowing six runs on nine hits.
“It just seemed to stem from (the botched popup),” Wedge said. “It’s one of those fluke things you see in baseball. They really took advantage of the opportunity.”
“I guess it had the chance to change the complexion of the game,” Blake said.
Byrd (15-7, 4.55) suffered just his second loss in his last eight outings, but has been sputtering as of late. In four starts since pitching a shutout against the White Sox at Jacobs Field on Sept. 1, Byrd has posted a 7.15 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs in 222/3 innings.
Ellis was a catalyst for Oakland, which outhit Cleveland 15-10.
He put the A’s in front 3-0 with a leadoff home run in the fourth, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. He has driven in 76 runs this season, a franchise record for a second baseman.
The A’s led 6-0 through 51/2 innings, which was plenty for Haren, who didn’t allow a run through the first four innings and just two for the game on seven hits through six innings. The right-hander struck out six and walked just one.
“He was good,” Wedge said of Haren, who snapped a four-game losing streak to improve to 15-8 with a 3.12 ERA. “He didn’t start (this year’s) All-Star Game without credence.”
The Indians were finally able to get to Haren in the fifth, scoring twice on a two-run homer from Grady Sizemore.
Cleveland’s final run came off the Oakland bullpen, with Travis Hafner’s two-out single in the seventh scoring Asdrubal Cabrera, who had doubled.
Hafner had a big night, reaching base in four of five trips to the plate with a pair of doubles, a single and an RBI. It was Hafner’s first three-hit game since July 15 and his second since May 30.
The Indians kept the champagne on ice, but there’s no panic in the Cleveland clubhouse.
“There’s nothing disappointing about this,” said Victor Martinez. “We lost a game. You’re not going to win 162 of those.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Oakland
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Westbrook (5-9, 4.41 ERA) vs. Braden (1-7, 6.41)
TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
MAGIC NUMBER: 1