Tribe ends three-game skid, keeps wild-card lead

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The mind-bending mathematics and
head-scratching scenarios aren't so complicated. And the big
weekend series isn't quite so big anymore, either.

For the Cleveland Indians, it's become pretty simple: three wins
and they're in the AL playoffs.

"Anyway we can get in is fine," C.C. Sabathia said. "I just
want to get in, period. We all know what we have to do."

Sabathia pitched eight shutout innings, Travis Hafner homered
and the Indians, who conceded the AL Central title to Chicago
earlier in the day, stayed tied for the wild-card lead by rolling
to a 6-0 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday night.

In salvaging the series finale, the Indians (93-66) snapped a
three-game losing streak that helped the White Sox hold onto their
dwindling lead and clinch the division. Cleveland is tied with the
Boston Red Sox atop the wild-card standings with three games left.

Even if they sweep three from the White Sox this weekend, the
Indians won't win the division crown. But they would capture the
wild card, which as recent postseason history has shown isn't such
a bad thing. The last three World Series champions -- Boston,
Florida and the Angels -- all entered the postseason as wild cards.

"When the White Sox were 15 games ahead, we were looking at the
wild card anyway," Sabathia said. "Now, it's up for grabs."

Sabathia (15-10) allowed five hits and improved to 9-1 in his
last 11 starts as the Indians ended Tampa Bay's five-game win
streak at Jacobs Field. He walked two, struck out nine, and the
290-pound left-hander even outran Aubrey Huff to first after
barehanding the outfielder's comebacker to end the fourth.

"I don't think he wanted to collide with me," Sabathia said
with a laugh. "He slowed up a little bit for me."

In the fifth, Sabathia, who has not allowed a run at home in 19
innings, retired the side on just three pitches.

Hafner and Ronnie Belliard hit two-run homers in the first off
Casey Fossum (8-12) and Jhonny Peralta hit a solo shot in the third
as the Indians enjoyed an easy night in the midst of the season's
most nerve-racking week.

Although they dropped three one-run games in a row, the Indians
have insisted they aren't feeling any pressure of the playoff
chase. Just in case, someone wrote: "Have Fun" on the erasable
message boards throughout Cleveland's clubhouse before the game.

They took it to heart, relieving some of the tension in the
first inning when Hafner connected for his 33rd homer and Belliard
hit his 16th, putting the Indians up 4-0 and giving them their
first lead of the series.

"We did a great job of jumping on them early," Indians manager
Eric Wedge said. "C.C. did the rest."

Peralta drew a two-out walk from Fossum before Hafner snapped an
0-for-12 slide by ripping a 3-2 pitch over the wall in straightaway
center. Victor Martinez followed with a single and Belliard pulled
his homer to left.

"Before the game," Belliard said, "I told C.C., 'You're the
guy and we're going to score runs for you.' We just have to keep
winning now."

The big lead helped Sabathia cruise through the early innings as
he retired 13 of 14 after allowing a pair of singles in the first.

"It was too much Sabathia," Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella

The Indians went ahead 5-0 in second and Peralta made it 6-0 an
inning later with his 24th homer, the most in one season by a
Cleveland shortstop. The leadoff shot broke Woodie Held's team
record set in 1961.

Peralta's homer also gave the Indians 50 in September, tying a
club mark set in 1997 and 1950.

Game notes
With Sabathia and Cliff Lee (18-5), the Indians have two
left-handers with at least 15 wins for the first time since 1940
when Al Milnar (18-10) and Al Smith (15-7) did it. ... Devil Rays
SS Julio Lugo and OF Carl Crawford became the ninth set of
teammates since 1900 and the fourth since 1925 to have at least 180
hits and 35 steals in one season. The last duo to do it was
Cleveland's Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel in 1999. ... Sabathia
is 6-1 in seven career starts against Tampa Bay. ... Martinez has
hit safely in 12 straight games. ... Tampa Bay rookie RHP Chad
Orvella is done for the season with a sore right shoulder. ...
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tampa Bay's two 1-0 shutouts
at Jacobs Field this season were the first by a visiting team at
the ballpark. Also, the Devil Rays are the first team to post a
pair of 1-0 shutouts on the road against the same opponent since
Minnesota did it to Detroit in 1999.