CLEVELAND — As Michael Brantley headed toward the clubhouse door and offseason carrying his belongings in a blue duffel bag, Cleveland's All-Star outfielder didn't look up at a TV showing Detroit's champagne-soaked celebration of another AL Central title.
This wasn't the way Brantley or the Indians thought it would end — shy of October.
Failing to build off their wild-card appearance in 2013, the Indians completed an unfulfilling season with a 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
"We came in with high expectations," outfielder David Murphy said. "I joined a team that went to the playoffs last year. We had every expectation of doing that again and maybe win the division. Obviously, things didn't work out that way."
Rookie Zach Walters and Carlos Santana each drove in two runs as the Indians finished 85-77, a seven-win drop from a year ago.
For manager Terry Francona, the finality of his second season in Cleveland brought mixed emotions. There was disappointment tinged with some jealousy toward the teams moving on.
"You go 100 miles an hour, and you're with this group all day, every day, and then all of a sudden it comes to a crashing halt, and you go home," he said. "I thought they did a really good job of playing right up until the end."
Walters and Murphy hit solo second-inning homers off Alex Cobb (10-9) for the Indians, who failed to build on last season when they hosted Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card game.
T.J. House (5-3), whose consistency gives Cleveland hope for the future, gave up Sean Rodriguez's leadoff homer in the second, but otherwise kept the AL's lowest-scoring team off the board. The Indians went 7-0 in his home starts.
Despite their many issues, the Indians stayed alive in the playoff race until Friday. They may have fallen short of goals, but the Indians have posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01 and with a core of young players and a pitching staff anchored by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, there's plenty of reason for optimism.
"We did about what we could do," Francona said. "All things considered, I think we said from the first day, you play the game the way you can and you look up at the end and you take where you are at. That's probably where we deserve to be."
Francona rested most of his starters, including Brantley, who made a late MVP push. Brantley is the first player in Cleveland history with 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals in a season, joining Jacoby Ellsbury as the only players to hit those plateaus in the past seven years.
While Brantley emerged as one of the league's rising stars, Kipnis flattened out.
After signing a $52.5 million, six-year deal before the home opener, Kipnis batted just .240 with six homers and 41 RBIs. It's a shocking drop off for the 27-year-old, an All-Star last season when he hit .284 with 17 homers and 84 RBIs.
Following the game, Kipnis gave away bats as souvenirs to fans sitting behind the Indians dugout.
He wasn't nearly as giving with the media.
"Not from me," he said, waving off reporters afterward. "Nope."
Murphy and Walters connected in the second to make it 2-1 against Cobb, who was the winning pitcher against Cleveland in last year's wild-card game.
Rodriquez gave the Rays a 1-0 lead in the second, crushing House's first pitch for his 12th homer.
With Brantley getting 200 hits and Kluber striking out 269, the Indians are the first team to have a 200-hit player and pitcher with more than 250 strikeouts since Arizona (Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson) in 1999.
The Indians drew 1,437,393 fans, the second fewest since Progressive Field opened in 1994.
Indians DH Jason Giambi hasn't decided whether to continue his playing career, which began with Oakland in 1995. The 43-year-old plans to go home and enjoy his family before making his next move. He said it's strange to have an uncertain future.
"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe somebody's looking for a broken down 44-year-old to take a few extra hacks."
Cleveland's pitchers struck out eight, raising their season record to 1,450. Tampa Bay, which also passed the previous mark set by Detroit last season, finished with 1,437 strikeouts.
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