CLEVELAND -- 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 said.
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.
|One reason for Cleveland's playoff push: C.C. Sabathia is 9-1 in his last 11 starts. (AP)|
|Players of the Game|
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|Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Julio Lugo, SS||2||0||1||0||2||0||0||.296|
|Nick Green, 2B||3||0||0||0||0||2||2||.239|
|Jorge Cantu, DH||4||0||1||0||0||2||2||.286|
|Eduardo Perez, 1B||4||0||1||0||0||1||2||.258|
|Aubrey Huff, RF||4||0||0||0||0||1||2||.259|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||4||0||0||0||0||2||0||.285|
|Alex Gonzalez, 3B||3||0||1||0||0||1||0||.266|
|Toby Hall, C||3||0||1||0||0||0||0||.289|
|Damon Hollins, CF||3||0||0||0||0||1||2||.245|
|2B - Jorge Cantu (40, Sabathia)|
|SH - Nick Green (10)|
|SB - Julio Lugo (37, 3rd base off Sabathia/Martinez)|
|CS - Julio Lugo (11, 2nd base by Sabathia/Martinez)|
|Team LOB - 6|
|DP - Green-Lugo-Perez|
|Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Casey Fossum (L,8-12)||2||6||6||6||2||1||3||4.92|
|Pitches-Strikes - Casey Fossum 51-30, Lance Carter 47-29, Tim Corcoran 13-9, Jesus Colome 10-6, Travis Harper 14-8|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Casey Fossum 1-3, Lance Carter 3-4, Tim Corcoran 1-1, Jesus Colome 2-1, Travis Harper 1-2|
|Batters Faced - Casey Fossum 13, Lance Carter 12, Tim Corcoran 4, Jesus Colome 4, Travis Harper 4|
|Grady Sizemore, CF||5||0||0||0||0||1||2||.291|
|Coco Crisp, LF||4||0||0||0||0||0||1||.303|
|Jhonny Peralta, SS||3||2||2||1||1||1||0||.295|
|Travis Hafner, DH||4||1||3||2||0||0||1||.304|
|Victor Martinez, C||4||1||1||0||0||1||2||.305|
|Ron Belliard, 2B||3||1||1||2||1||0||2||.283|
|Jose Hernandez, 1B||2||0||0||0||1||1||2||.232|
|Ben Broussard, 1B||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.261|
|Aaron Boone, 3B||3||1||0||0||1||0||2||.244|
|Casey Blake, RF||4||0||3||0||0||0||0||.241|
|2B - Jhonny Peralta (35, Colome), Travis Hafner (40, Carter), Casey Blake (31, Harper)|
|HR - Jhonny Peralta (24, Fossum), Travis Hafner (33, Fossum), Ron Belliard (16, Fossum)|
|RBI - Jhonny Peralta (78), Travis Hafner 2 (108), Ron Belliard 2 (76)|
|2-OUT RBI - Travis Hafner 2 (52), Ron Belliard 2 (30)|
|Team LOB - 7|
|C.C. Sabathia (W,15-10)||8||5||0||0||2||9||0||4.03|
|Pitches-Strikes - C.C. Sabathia 104-69, Rafael Betancourt 11-8|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - C.C. Sabathia 10-4|
|Batters Faced - C.C. Sabathia 30, Rafael Betancourt 3|
|Attendance - 25870|
|Game Time - 2:21|
|Temperature - 59|
|Umpires - Home - Chris Guccione, First Base - Ted Barrett, Second Base - Alfonso Marquez, Third Base - Rick Reed|