Oakland's Jack Hannahan clubs a two-run double off Indians pitcher Paul Byrd in the second inning of last night's game.
CLEVELAND - With a chance to pop champagne, the Cleveland Indians couldn't even clinch a popup.
An early misplay on Mark Ellis' easy infield fly doomed Cleveland, Dan Haren pitched six strong innings and Jack Cust homered as the Athletics delayed the Indians from winning the AL Central with a 9-3 victory last night.
Ellis homered and drove in three runs as the A's built a 6-0 lead and spoiled Cleveland's plans of wrapping up its first division title since 2001 and partying until today's early hours.
"It wasn't in the cards for us," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
But the Indians' magic number was lowered to one when second-place Detroit lost 7-4 at home to Kansas City.
Cleveland, a disappointing fourth-place finisher last season, can lock up a playoff spot today by winning its final regular-season home game.
Still, the Indians lamented a chance to become the first team to qualify for the postseason and the possibility of a long October.
"It sure would have been nice to be in here watching the Tigers' game end," Paul Byrd (15-7) said in a somber Cleveland clubhouse. "I felt a hunger to get it done. But it wasn't meant to be."
Haren (15-8), the AL's starter in the All-Star game, won for the first time in six starts since Aug. 21. The right-hander, battling Cleveland's Fausto Carmona for the league's ERA title, allowed two runs and seven hits.
"I've struggled to pick up a win of late, but to be honest I probably had my worst stuff that I've had in a month," Haren said.
Cleveland fans, who have been slow to embrace these Indians all summer, sold out Jacobs Field. They came to the ballpark dressed in shades of red and were ready to party. Their hopes for a memorable night rose when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed a second-inning update from Comerica Park: KC 5, Det 1.
But at about the same time, Ellis' towering pop off Byrd on what should have been the third out of the second, landed with a thud between the right-hander and two embarrassed teammates - a missed chance, symbolic of the whole night.
"If I had to do it over again, I would have just run over there and caught it myself," Byrd said. "That was bad quarterbacking there."
Grady Sizemore hit a two-run homer in the fifth to pull Cleveland within 6-2, but the A's countered with three runs in the sixth as Cust hit a two-run homer to blow it open and put the Indians' celebration on hold for at least another day.
Cleveland had its four-game winning streak stopped and dropped to 21-6 since Aug. 25.
Ellis gave the A's a 3-0 lead in the fourth with his 19th homer, a leadoff shot that landed on the home run porch in left. Oakland chased Byrd in the fifth with three runs, two on an RBI double by Ellis.
Thanks to a communication breakdown between Byrd, third baseman Casey Blake and catcher Kelly Shoppach, the A's scored twice in the second.
Byrd got Ellis to hit a fly and the right-hander immediately pointed skyward as he, Blake and Shoppach converged near the foul line. But none of them took charge and it fell for a single.
"Best hit I've ever had in my life," Ellis said. "It went all of about, what, 20 feet? I didn't know what was going on, I was just running to first base. I saw the replay and it looked like Byrd was going to take it, then Shoppach, and they both backed off."
Marco Scutaro followed with a base hit and Jack Hannahan brought both runners home with a gapper to right-center. The A's could have gone up by three but Hannahan was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Kenny Lofton.
Sizemore's 24th homer, a 421-foot shot to right, got Cleveland within 6-2 in the fifth and briefly ignited the crowd of 40,663.
But Nick Swisher, back in Oakland's lineup after serving a three-game suspension, hit an RBI double off Tom Mastny and Cust followed with a shot to straightaway center, his seventh homer against the Indians this season.
It was a rare off-night for the Indians, who haven't had many like it.
"You want to get it over as soon as you can," Blake said. "But you have to look at it like it just wasn't meant to be. We're going to lose games. Maybe it was good for us to get our butts kicked so we come out with the energy we need."
Notes: Haren has a 3.12 ERA, slightly behind Carmona's 3.03. ... Ellis' 76 RBIs are the most by an A's second baseman since the club moved to Oakland in 1968. Phil Garner had the previous high with 74. ... Cust's seven homers tie him with Mark McGwire (1990), Jose Canseco (1990) and Bob Cerv (1958) for the most by an A's hitter against Cleveland in one season. Cust is batting .417 with 19 RBIs in nine games against Cleveland.