CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians' surprising season won't be remembered for six months of stirring comebacks, scintillating streaks or personal milestones.
Unfair or not, one agonizing week erased it all.
With the AL playoffs again in their sights, and just as September turned to October, the Indians simply collapsed.
"It's disappointing," third baseman Aaron Boone said. "We were so close."
Needing to win their home finale and hoping the New York Yankees could win at Boston to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Red Sox for the AL wild card, Cleveland lost 3-1 to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
The loss concluded a disastrous final seven days for the Indians (93-69), who dropped six of their last seven games and barely missed the playoffs. The defeat also handed the wild card to the Red Sox -- a postseason spot that appeared reserved for Cleveland just a few days ago.
"We played so well for so long, we were bound to hit a tough stretch," Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia said in a somber Cleveland clubhouse. "It just happened in the last week of the season."
After Grady Sizemore bounced to second for the final out, several Indians lingered in the dugout, simply staring out to the field as the sellout crowd gave the team one last standing ovation to acknowledge a season few thought possible.
On his way to the dugout, Sizemore, one of the Indians' rising young stars, tossed his helmet and yanked out his jersey before being stopped by Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.
"I told Sizemore, 'Keep playing kid. You and your team had a great season,'" Guillen said. "He's a player who is great for baseball. The bad news is that I've got to face him."
The White Sox (99-63) had already clinched the AL Central by the time they arrived on Friday for a series that was mostly meaningless for them, and many wondered how hard they would play with their fate determined.
On Friday, they clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 3-2 win in 13 innings. On Saturday, they held on for a 4-3 win, and Sunday they completed a three-game sweep to finish 14-5 -- 9-1 at Jacobs Field -- against the Indians.
"We played these three games the way we did earlier in the season," Aaron Rowand said. "We had so much stuff thrown at us, but once we clinched, we relaxed and beat a very good team."
Cleveland, on the other hand, fell apart.
Entering last Sunday's game at Kansas City, the Indians were 1½ games ahead in the wild-card race and 1½ behind the free-falling White Sox, who led the division by 15 games on Aug. 1 and were on the verge of an historic collapse.
But beginning with a 5-4 loss to the Royals, a defeat that was sealed when Sizemore lost a ninth-inning fly ball in the Missouri sunshine, the Indians played more like the team that started 9-14 in April, not the one that went 39-18 since July 31.
"I don't know what happened this last week," Travis Hafner said. "We just didn't finish it off."
Cleveland fans will look back and remember the clutch hits that never came despite countless chances in the past few days. The Indians went 7-for-56 (.125) with runners in scoring position in the final seven games -- five of them one-run losses.
"We expected to win today. We expected to win the whole last week," outfielder Casey Blake said. "When we really needed the runs, they were hard to come by."
The Indians' offensive woes wasted strong pitching performances by starters Cliff Lee, Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook. And sadly for them, the Indians' turnaround -- they went 80-82 in 2004 -- will be overshadowed by a stumble at the finish.
"We ended like we started," said closer Bob Wickman, who is eligible for free agency. "We came up one game short. But the guys should be very proud of what they've accomplished."
Trailing by three, the Indians tried to rally in the sixth as Hafner and Victor Martinez hit consecutive doubles to pull Cleveland to 3-1. McCarthy, trying to convince Guillen to put him on the postseason roster, was lifted for reliever Luis Vizcaino, who retired three straight.
Orlando Hernandez worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth and finished for his first save since 2002 with the Yankees.
"We'll definitely get over this," Boone said. "The good thing is that we'll go to spring training with a focus and a confidence that we can do this. But now we'll go home and think about what could have been."
Dye, who rested his sore left leg in the first two games of the series, gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the first with his 31st homer, a 409-foot shot into the left-field bleachers off Scott Elarton (11-9).
Dye's homer gave Chicago 200 this season, making the White Sox and Yankees the first teams in major-league history to hit at least 200 in six straight years.
- Millwood (2.86) won the AL ERA title, edging Minnesota's Johan Santana (2.87). Millwood is the first Cleveland pitcher to lead the league in ERA since Rick Sutcliffe in 1982.
- With 36 one-run losses, the Indians are the first team to drop more than 50 percent of their losses by one run since 1971, when the Houston Astros went 79-83, losing 43 by a run.
- Guillen hasn't set his playoff rotation, but it's likely he'll go with Jose Contreras in Game 1 followed by Mark Buehrle in Game 2.
- The White Sox have won seven straight in Cleveland, their longest streak since July 1, 1959, to May 13, 1960.
- Chicago's 99 wins were its most since 1983, and one shy of the club record set in 1917 -- the last time the White Sox won the World Series.