Royals end year in defeat but avoid 100-loss season

Sunday, September 30, 2007 | 7:46 p.m. CDT; updated 8:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Travis Hafner is going to the playoffs for the first time, and he tuned up for the postseason with another big day at the plate.

Hafner drove in two runs to reach 100 RBIs for the fourth straight year, and the Cleveland Indians beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Sunday in the final game of the regular season.

The Indians, who won the AL Central, will start C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 of their division series against the New York Yankees on Thursday. The Yankees, who were 6-0 against the Indians this year, will counter with Chien-Ming Wang.

“Obviously, they’ve got a lot of playoff experience, more than we’ve seen,” Hafner said. “But it’s a five-game series and we feel good about our team. We’ve played pretty well the last month. It’s as good as we’ve played this year. We’re excited, we’re ready to go.”

Hafner, who hit only .228 in May and .218 in June, is batting .373 in his last 17 games with three homers and 13 RBIs.

“He’s been hitting the baseball, impacting the baseball the way you expect Travis Hafner to do,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “And it couldn’t happen at a better time for us.”

Play was halted for more than 10 minutes in the top of the ninth when a sharply hit grounder bounced up and struck Kansas City third baseman Alex Gordon in the face. Gordon’s nose started bleeding but he was able to walk off the field under his own power holding a towel to his face.

Buddy Bell, who managed his last game for the Royals, said Gordon was taken to a hospital.

“There’s a good chance of his nose being broken,” Bell said. “It’s probably not the first time that’s happened on a groundball.”

Bell, who had a cancerous growth removed from his throat last fall, announced in August that he would step down to spend more time with his family. He finished with a 174-262 record for the Royals.

One of only three major league managers with an overall record that’s 200 games below .500, Bell has said he might like to manage again.

“Today was a bad day for me in terms of missing things more than I thought I would,” he said.

It also may have been the last game for Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney, the veteran designated hitter and first baseman whose contract has expired.

The Royals ended the season on a down note, going 9-19 in September and finishing last in the AL Central for the fourth straight year. But at 69-93, they did avoid 100 losses for the first time since 2003.

Aaron Laffey (4-2), who is not included in the Indians’ four-man playoff rotation, went five innings to get the win, giving up four hits and one run.

Joe Borowski, who pitched the ninth for his AL-leading 45th save in 53 chances, said he isn’t worried about the Indians’ winless record against New York.

“It’s the playoffs now,” he said. “You can throw all that stuff out. We just want to go in and win three straight. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done.”

Hafner put Cleveland in front 2-0 with a two-run double in the third off Luke Hochevar (0-1), the top overall pick in the 2006 draft who was making his first major league start. The Indians took a 3-0 lead in the fourth on Chris Gomez’s run-scoring groundout.

Hochevar, who had three relief appearances this month, gave up two runs and three hits in three innings.

Joey Gathright and Tony Pena Jr. each drove in a run for Kansas City.

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