KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the next-to-last day of the regular season, the Cleveland Indians absorbed a postseason setback.
Joey Gathright’s RBI single in the eighth inning lifted Kansas City past Cleveland 4-3 Saturday night and ended the Indians’ chance to get home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.
Cleveland’s loss gave AL East champion Boston the home field and the right to choose when to start its series against the Los Angeles Angels. Minutes after last-place Kansas City beat AL Central champion Cleveland, the Red Sox elected to open Wednesday.
If the Indians had begun Wednesday, the extra day off during the series would’ve enabled 19-game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona to get two starts each in the five-game series against the Yankees.
“We’ll play Thursday and we’re going to need four (starters),” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge.
Sabathia, Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd will be those four starters.
Cleveland and Boston went into the final two games tied with 95-65 records. But the Red Sox, who own the tiebreaker over the Indians, beat Minnesota 6-4 earlier Saturday for their 96th win.
“You know — we were shooting to try to have the best record so we could have our choice,” Wedge said.
“It didn’t work out. But our guys went after it. They played the way they always do. They get out there, they grind it out. They play the game with everything they’ve got. But tonight it just wasn’t meant to be.”
After Mike Sweeney led off the eighth with a single against Rafael Perez (1-2), pinch-hitter Esteban German laid down a bunt and appeared to be safe when the throw from catcher Victor Martinez hit the runner.
German was called out for running inside the base line and manager Buddy Bell was ejected for arguing. After Alex Gordon singled, Jensen Lewis relieved.
Shane Costa struck out before Gathright, whose trouble with the lights cost the Royals two early runs, singled home the tiebreaking run.
“All the wins for us are important,” said Bell, who has already announced he will resign after the season ends on Sunday with the Royals in last place for the fourth year in a row.
Joakim Soria (2-3) pitched the final two innings for the Royals.
The Indians tied it 3-all in the eighth on Martinez’s run-scoring single, his third RBI of the game.
The Royals scored three times in the first inning after David DeJesus led off by getting hit by a pitch for the 23rd time, extending his own team record. Mark Grudzielanek singled, Mark Teahen doubled in a run, another scored on Westbrook’s wild pitch and Gordon made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly.
The Royals had four different pitchers face five batters from the final out of the sixth inning to the final out of the seventh, and the strategy worked. Jimmy Gobble struck out Grady Sizemore to end the seventh with a runner on first.
“Our bullpen again saved the day,” Bell said.
In the Cleveland third, Martinez lifted a shallow fly ball to left-center. Gathright, the left fielder, lost it in the lights and the ball dropped for a two-run single.
Westbrook, who turned 30 on Saturday, said he expected nothing less from the Royals.
“This is the big leagues, No matter whether a team’s got 90 wins or 90 losses, they’re still big league baseball players,” he said. “They’re not going to back down because we’re in first place and they’re in last place. They’re a good baseball team. You can’t think that you’ve got the upper hand. You feel confident in your abilities but you still have to give them a lot of credit.”
Royals starter Gil Meche went six innings. He tied his season high with seven strikeouts and ended his first season in Kansas City with a respectable 3.67 ERA.
Meche labored through the first three innings, throwing 71 pitches. but he got through the fourth and fifth innings with only 19 pitches.
Ryan Garko tried to score from second with what would have been the tying run on Jhonny Peralta’s single with two out in the sixth. But he was easily thrown out by Gathright, who’s never been known for a strong arm.
It was Bell’s fifth ejection this year.
• RHP Luke Hochevar, the overall No. 1 draft choice in 2006, will make his first major league start on Sunday for KC.
• The longest hitting streak in the AL this season will belong to Casey Blake. The Indians’ third baseman hit in 26 straight from May 20 through June 17.
• The Indians had five hitters in their starting lineup with at least 21 home runs. The Royals had none.