CLEVELAND — Somehow, some way, they've scrapped, clawed and limped their way into contention. And now that September's here, the Cleveland Indians plan to hang around.
For as long as they can.
"We all know what we're facing," manager Manny Acta said following a 7-0 loss Thursday to the Oakland Athletics. "There's no time to complain, no time to rest, no time to shut it down. We just have to get after it."
The Indians opened the season's final month with an ugly loss, a rarity for a team that has played 46 one-run games and made dramatic wins routine. They remain 5 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central, a deficit the Indians hope doesn't grow by the time the Tigers come to town next week.
"We're still very much in it," reliever Tony Sipp said.
Gio Gonzalez (12-11) pitched seven shutout innings and baffled Cleveland again as the A's avoided a four-game sweep.
Gonzalez improved to 5-0 with a 0.72 ERA in six career starts against the Indians, extending his scoreless streak to 27 2-3 innings against them. The left-hander allowed four singles and was never in trouble against a lineup missing several injured regulars.
"Gio was tough on us again," Acta said. "Even when we have a full deck of cards he is always tough on us. He's got an overpowering fastball and one of the best breaking balls in the league. He always cruises against us, and he did it again."
Cliff Pennington had four hits and three RBIs as the A's did just enough against Fausto Carmona (6-13) and snapped a five-game losing streak.
Afterward, the Indians packed and left for Kansas City, where they'll open a three-game series on Friday. On Monday, they'll open a critical three-game set at home against the Tigers. At this point, the Indians may need a sweep to keep their unexpected comeback season alive.
With their next win, the Indians will match their total for all of 2010, when they finished 25 games out of first.
"We've actually opened some eyes because nobody thought this was for real and were waiting on us to hit that skid and head down that downward spiral," Sipp said. "That hasn't happened yet."
After winning a 16-inning marathon that ended at 12:07 a.m., the Indians took the field at 12:06 p.m.
Their bats never awakened against Gonzalez, who won his third start in a row after five consecutive losses. He worked out of three two-on jams, twice getting Asdrubal Cabrera to pop to right for the final out. In four starts in Cleveland, Gonzalez is 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA.
He has no explanation for how he does it.
"Honestly, I really don't," Gonzalez said. "The defense does a great job. Our catchers do a great job studying video. All I try to do is pound the strike zone. That's it."
Only hours into the season's final month, the Indians had to make yet another roster move because of an injury.
Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was placed on the 15-day disabled list, the latest tough break for the South Korean, whose 2011 season has been marred by injuries, an arrest on drunken-driving charges and sub-par stats. Choo strained a muscle in his side on a check-swing last week.
Choo joined the Indians' ample DL, which includes outfielders Michael Brantley and Grady Sizemore, DH Travis Hafner and starters Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco. Acta has been forced to juggle his lineup for months, and Thursday he had to use two rookie relievers Nick Hagadone and Corey Kluber, who made their major league debuts shortly after arriving from Triple-A Columbus.
"We're hanging in there," Acta said. "We're doing well. We've won five of the last seven games, and if you win five out of seven the rest of the way good things can happen. These guys are going to go out and battle and if we get a couple of the cards back in the next couple weeks, maybe it will give us a lift."
Oakland strung together three straight two-out singles, and got aggressive on the basepaths to take a 2-0 lead in the fifth against Carmona.
That was more than Gonzalez needed to keep the Indians – injured or not – in check.
"That team is fighting for first place," Gonzalez said. "They can definitely hit a fastball up and any mistake pitches. I'm just trying to do my job. You can't do anything about it except stay away from the bats."
Notes: Gonzalez hasn't given up a run in his last four starts against the Indians, the longest stretch by an A's pitcher against Cleveland since Bob Welch in 1990. ... The Indians said 18 dozen baseballs (216) were used in Wednesday's game, which featured 14 pitchers, 34 strikeouts and 509 pitches. ... Cleveland was shut out for the 12th time, but first since July. ... RHP Jason Rice, acquired by Oakland just before the midnight waiver deadline in a deal from Boston, arrived at the ballpark just before game time. ... Sizemore is scheduled to play six innings in the outfield Thursday night for Double-A Akron, the next step in his recovery from a bruised knee. He could be back with the Indians next week. ... Indians RHP Justin Masterson (10-8) will start the series opener against the Royals Bruce Chen (10-5). Masterson's 2.83 ERA is the AL's fourth lowest, and he's gone at least five innings in 27 of 28 starts.