CLEVELAND -- The handwritten note, scribbled on the erasable message board inside their clubhouse, was the most positive sign the reeling Indians have seen for days. It said: "Bring Luggage to Ballpark."
The Indians are planning a trip to Boston.
Trouble is, they may never get to go.
Cleveland's comeback season has collapsed. And for the Indians and their fans, it's come down to this: Win on Sunday and hope the dreaded New York Yankees do, too. How's that for worst-case scenarios?
Rookie Tadahito Iguchi hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning and the Chicago White Sox held on for a 4-3 victory over Cleveland on Saturday, sending the Indians into the regular season's final scheduled day without control of their October fate.
"I'm kind of stunned at what has happened," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said.
Iguchi's shot to center, his 15th, snapped a 1-all tie and helped set up a Sunday in which the Indians, who didn't deliver with the bases loaded in the eighth and haven't hit in the clutch for a week, will have to win or have their inspirational season end in disappointment.
Following a year jammed with stirring comebacks and gut-wrenching losses, Cleveland (93-68) will have to beat the AL Central champions and hope the Yankees (95-66) beat the Red Sox (94-67) at Fenway Park on Sunday.
If that occurs, the Indians would face the Red Sox on Monday in a one-game playoff at Boston to decide the AL wild card. The Indians beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the 1948 AL pennant.
"I hope we can still sneak in there," third baseman Aaron Boone said. "Hopefully we can get it done and come in here and watch TV."
It could have been so much easier for the Indians, who lost by one run for the fifth time in six games, jeopardizing a postseason that seemed guaranteed a few days ago when it concluded a 17-2 stretch.
But since dropping a 5-4 decision last Sunday in Kansas City -- when center fielder Grady Sizemore lost a ninth-inning fly ball in the sun -- the Indians have been sliding backward and can't seem to stop.
Are they choking?
"I think that's ridiculous," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "Look at what these guys have done, and the fact is we still have a chance to force a playoff game. You guys have written us off 25 times this year. I don't think you have a right to say that when Game 161 is meaningful."
Jon Garland (18-10) allowed just four hits in 6 2/3 innings, and Chicago's bullpen was able to hold off the Indians, who have lost a club record 36 one-run games, including all nine to the White Sox.
Bobby Jenks pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save as the White Sox improved to 13-5 against the Indians this season.
Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen has made good on his promise that his team, which clinched the AL Central before arriving, would play hard in the series. Not only have they done that, but the White Sox have a chance to end the Indians' season.
"They are the type of team you don't want in the playoff because they can get hot and kill you," Guillen said. "I don't want to say it's a great feeling because I respect the manager and the players over there, but I have been worried about them all summer."
Trailing 1-0 in the seventh, the White Sox received a leadoff single from Aaron Rowand, and one out later, Geoff Blum's base hit sent Rowand to third. Indians starter Jake Westbrook (15-15) induced Pablo Ozuna to bounce one off the plate, but it soared high enough for a tying RBI single.
One out later, Iguchi, who came in just 1-for-15 vs. Westbrook, homered to center to make it 4-1.
"I made a good pitch," Westbrook said, "just not good enough."
Garland, 8-1 against the AL Central this season, was leading 4-1 when he was lifted by Guillen with two outs in the seventh for Luis Vizcaino, and the Indians immediately rallied.
Aaron Boone ripped an RBI single, his first hit in 15 at-bats, and Casey Blake followed with an RBI double to make it 4-3. But Damaso Marte came on and struck out Sizemore with the tying run at second.
In their past six games, the Indians are 6-for-49 with runners in scoring position.
"Apparently, we've got to do something different," Blake said. "Everybody is playing hard. Everybody wants to win in the worst way. It's frustrating when you're in the position we were in and you don't get the job done."
After resting seven of his regulars Friday, Guillen joked after Chicago's win that he "might call Phoenix and see if they can bring in some instructional-league guys."
But Guillen went back to a heavyweight lineup against Westbrook, sitting only outfielder Jermaine Dye, who has sore legs.
- Chicago is a major league-best 35-19 in one-run games.
- Going into Sunday's season finale, Indians RHP Kevin Millwood (2.86) has a .06 lead over Minnesota's Johan Santana (2.92) for the AL ERA title. Millwood (9-11) has a chance to become the first champ to have a losing record since Cleveland's Stan Coveleski in 1923. Santana starts Sunday against Detroit.
- Chicago's final postseason roster will come down to either McCarthy or RHP Orlando Hernandez as the club's long reliever. "The question is: Do you go with the guy that has the experience and has not pitched much recently," said White Sox GM Kenny Williams. "Or do you go with the young guy, who might be less equipped to deal with the stage but has been lights out?"