© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
09/30/07 6:39 PM ET
Indians head to playoffs on winning note
Laffey tosses five strong innings; Hafner reaches 100 RBIs
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- Aaron Laffey ducked into the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium between innings early in Sunday's game and saw the inevitable. It's tradition for Major League rookies to don ridiculous costumes at some point on the final road trip of the year. And on this day, the bell tolled for Laffey and his fellow first-timers. "I came in here to get a Gatorade and saw them," Laffey said. "I didn't even want to look at mine." What Laffey, who pitched the Tribe to a 3-2 victory over the Royals in this regular-season finale, eventually found in his locker stall pleased him. It was a giant, bright parrot costume, which certainly beats some of the alternatives -- namely, a flamboyant cowboy outfit donned by Ben Francisco and a flight attendant's uniform worn by Jensen Lewis. But goofy getups aren't all Laffey (4-2, 4.56 ERA) has to smile about these days. He told reporters he has been informed by manager Eric Wedge that he is on the Indians' postseason roster, where he will be ready to pitch out of the bullpen. So that solves the mystery of who the Indians' 11th pitcher will be in the ALDS against the Yankees. Laffey will join starters C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd and relievers Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, Aaron Fultz and Tom Mastny. "To come up in early August and be able to make the playoff roster is real exciting," Laffey said. "I'm pumped to get the playoffs going." As are the rest of the Indians, who put a victorious final touch on their 96-66 season. It ties them with the Red Sox for baseball's best regular-season record and with the 1996 Tribe team for the sixth-best record in club history. All this with a payroll around $70 million. "That's just this team," said Borowski, who picked up his American League- and career-best 45th save on this day. "We just find ways to win. It's enjoyable. Guys never quit."
They didn't quit in this game, even though they had nothing meaningful to play for. Boston had already claimed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Saturday night, by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Indians. Yet behind Laffey's short but sweet outing (he was limited to 58 pitches so that he'd be ready to pitch out of the 'pen by Thursday's Game 1), the Indians plugged away as if their playoff future depended on it. The offense was sparked early by Travis Hafner, who smacked a two-run double to left off rookie Luke Hochevar in the third inning. The hit was meaningful not just for giving the Indians a 2-0 lead but also because it gave the man known as Pronk his 100th RBI. Considering Hafner has struggled to live up to his own enormous potential all year, that triple-digit mark meant a lot to him. "It's something that I wanted to get to," said Hafner, who has reached 100 RBIs in four straight seasons. "I wanted to keep that streak going. I take a lot of pride in being a run-producer. I was definitely trying to get to that today." Once Hafner had it, he was pulled from the game. That was the case with all the Tribe's regulars in this game, save for right fielder Franklin Gutierrez. "Some of these guys that wanted to play just because of the time we're going to have off between the regular season and playoffs were able to get a couple at-bats," Wedge said. "It all worked out today." The game continued to work out in Laffey's favor when he was afforded another manufactured run of support in the fourth. The left-handed Laffey cruised through his first four innings before giving up a trio of singles -- the last of which drove in a run -- in the fifth. On the whole, however, Laffey used his five innings of work to demonstrate just how far he's come along in nine big league starts. "I liked the way he handled himself," Wedge said. "He came up here in pretty good shape, with regard to how he handles things and channels intensity. Obviously, with a young starting pitcher you learn in a hurry up here. He's done a good job making adjustments off that." The Indians' adjusted lineup didn't do anymore damage to the Royals, but the Tribe's bullpen held on down the stretch. Tom Mastny gave up a run with two outs in the seventh, but Aaron Fultz came on to end that inning and pitch a scoreless eighth. Borowski worked a ninth inning in which the only drama was Ross Gload's two-out double. Borowski's 45 saves tie Bob Wickman's 2005 mark for the second-most by an Indians closer. Jose Mesa's 46 saves in 1995 remains the record that would have been toppled, had Borowski not squandered two opportunities against the Mariners last week. "It would have been really good if I didn't blow those two in Seattle," Borowski said with a laugh. "But everything I got over 40 was real special." This win capped a special season for the Indians, who ran away with the AL Central title by eight games, haven't lost a series since the Aug. 10-12 set against the Yanks and are gearing up for their first playoff appearance in six years. "We've got a great group of guys," Wedge said. "I'm most proud of the way they play and the professionalism and respect they show for this game and the teammates they are." Professionalism, though, went out the window when the rookie hazing ritual began. Players got a kick out of watching the rookies suit up for the flight back to Cleveland. Laffey, though, felt he got off easy. "I'll take this over a skirt or a wig any day," he said with a smile.
American League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||6:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||3 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||9:30 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||6:30 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||6:30 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||6 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.