But everything was different for the Indians in

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

But everything was different for the Indians in 2000, and a painful season had a painful ending on Sunday when the Indians, who overcame so much, were eliminated from the AL wild-card race and failed to make the postseason for the first time since 1995.

"You swim and swim and swim, and you die on shore," said catcher Sandy Alomar. "It's the worst way."

The Indians' season officially ended at 7:18 p.m. EDT Sunday with sprinklers soaking the outfield grass in an empty Jacobs Field and most of Cleveland's players already at home.

They had kept their slim playoff chances alive with an afternoon 11-4 win over David Wells and Toronto, only to finish one game out when both Oakland and Seattle won their games.

"I got a real empty feeling inside," said Indians manager Charlie Manuel, who watched the West Coast games in his office. "I don't even feel like I'm going home. It will probably hit me later."

Cleveland is in a state of disbelief.

Not only did the Indians lose the AL Central this season for the first time, but they're not going to the playoffs despite being the AL's best team after the All-Star break and finishing with 90 wins _ three more than the stumbling World Series champion New York Yankees.

In a season where everything seemed to go against the Indians, the end was especially tough.

"It hurts a little more because how well we've been playing," Manuel said. "I think we're a playoff-caliber team. We had our chances. We had 162 games. But it seemed like we could never get over the hump."

The Indians, who battled injuries all season, temporarily extended their season by at least a few hours when they pounded Wells (20-8).

Manny Ramirez homered in a magical at-bat for the Indians and Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar and Kenny Lofton added homers for Cleveland, which went 46-30 after the break.

A few of the Indians players stayed around to watch the late games, cheering anything positive done by the Texas Rangers or Anaheim Angels.

When the Angels took an early 2-0 lead, some of the Indians seated in front of the big-screen TV cheered. Others couldn't bear to watch.

"This is nerve-wracking," Omar Vizquel said. "It's probably tougher to watch this game on TV than to be in any game I've ever played."

The Indians had made travel arrangements for four cities, and a charter plane, tentatively headed to Seattle at 10 p.m. EDT, was waiting for them had the Mariners lost and forced a playoff.

But the equipment bags stacked near the door weren't heading to the airport after all.

"I'm proud of the way this team played in the second half," said David Segui, who came over in one of the Indians' trading deadline deals. It would have been easy to throw in the towel when we were around .500 at midseason."

And now that the offseason is here, the Indians have some tough decisions to make.

Ramirez is eligible to become a free agent, and Segui, Alomar and Lofton are all in the final year of their contracts.

Ramirez's situation is the most troublesome. He and his agent have already turned down a $75 million, five-year deal from the club. Indians owner Larry Dolan has promised he'll make a final offer to Ramirez, who seems to drive up his price with every at-bat.

In the seventh, with one fan holding a sign saying, "Uncanny Manny" and more than 42,000 chanting "Man-ny, Man-ny", Ramirez connected for his 38th homer _ a 452-foot shot that rattled through the trees in a picnic area beyond centerfield.

"I was just lucky," said Ramirez as he left Jacobs Field for maybe the last time on a golf cart. "So long."

Wells came in with a 17-3 career mark against Cleveland, going 4-0 against them in the postseason and beating them twice this year. But the left-hander lost to Cleveland for the first time since June 22, 1997, and probably lost any chance of overtaking Boston's Pedro Martinez in the Cy Young balloting.

Steve Woodard (3-3) got the victory, retiring 17 in a row at one point.

In the final 13 days of the season, the Indians beat Wells, Martinez and Roger Clemens.

"We did everything we could, beat the best teams and beat the best pitchers," Fryman said. "Maybe it just wasn't meant to be."

Notes: There were signs all over the ballpark addressed toward Dolan on

Ramirez's future. Among them: "My Granny Said Pay Manny" and "Manny

Please Stay, Dolan Please Pay." ... Roberto Alomar finished the season

with an 18-game hitting streak. ... Cleveland led the majors in

attendance for the first time since 1948. And their 3,456,278 led the AL

for the second straight year.

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