DETROIT -- There were incredible highs and extreme lows. The season began with a magical run that had Cleveland dreaming about dancing into October and it ended in the city that claimed the crown the Indians so coveted.
On Wednesday night, the Tribe wrapped up its 2011 campaign with a 5-4 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland's best player during this roller-coaster ride of a year, swung through a fastball from Detroit closer Jose Valverde for a game-ending strikeout that sent the Indians into the offseason.
"They showed why they're a playoff team," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
That is what the Indians believed they could be when this season began.
Now, it is the goal once again for 2012.
"We're going to have a good team next year," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "I think expectations are going to be high. I think anything short of making the playoffs is going to be a disappointing."
Prior to Wednesday's game against the Tigers, the Indians secured sole possession of second place in the American League Central when the Blue Jays defeated the White Sox in Chicago. Once on the field in the Motor City, however, the Tribe was unable to end the year even in the win and loss columns.
The loss to Detroit -- this season's division champion -- dropped the Indians to 80-82. There are two sides to every story and the Tribe's 2011 tale is no exception. On one hand, Cleveland has three losing seasons in a row for the first time since 2002-04. Another way to view things would be to note the Indians' 11-game improvement over last year.
Acta was hardly satisfied.
"I'm disappointed that we couldn't at least finish with a .500 record," Acta said. "I thought we played too well for too long to end up this way."
Cleveland lost 93 games a season ago and had 190 losses combined over the past two tours. This year, the Indians believed they had the young and talented pieces in place to make a run at the division, and the team's 30-15 start, which had them in first place and seven games ahead of Detroit at the time, seemed to back up the organization's early optimism.
The club's youthful roster, combined with a wave of devasatating injuries, eventually caught up to Cleveland. The Indians slid down the standings while the Tigers surged. Wednesday's defeat marked the 10th straight loss to Detroit, which held the Tribe to one win in nine games at Comerica Park.
Next season, the Indians will have to prove they can get by the Tigers if they want to capture the Central title.
"I don't think that it's just going to be a Detroit-Cleveland thing next year," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said. "We've got a lot of good teams, especially Detroit. But we're going to come back, we're going to reload and we're going to be firing on all cylinders when April rolls around again."
Detroit will be ready.
"You know what?" Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Most people picked the White Sox or Minnesota [going into the season], and really -- and rightfully so -- the talk of baseball for about four months was the Cleveland Indians, not the Detroit Tigers."
Acta watched the final game of the year from the batting cages after being ejected by home-plate umpire Dan Bellino in the first inning. After Cabrera struck out to end the frame, Acta said something from the dugout and Bellino immediately tossed him from the game.
Acta argued with Bellino on the field briefly before leaving the field. His ejection put bench coach, and long-time friend, Tim Tolman in charge for final game of the season. Prior to the game, the Indians announced that Tolman was stepping down from his duties as bench coach.
Cleveland's manager insisted that he did not try to get thrown out intentionally.
"I would never make a mockery out of a baseball game," Acta said. "If I wanted Tolman to manage a game, I didn't have to get thrown out of the game. I would've just handed the lineup card to him and let him manage the game. He didn't manage the game. I managed the game from the tunnel. All I did was sit in the penalty box, that's it."
Rookie right-hander Zach McAllister took the mound in the season's swan song and walked away with a no-decision after giving up one unearned run on six hits over five innings. The Tigers (95-67) struck for a pair of runs off reliever Joe Smith in the sixth inning. One frame later, a wild pitch from Zach Putnam allowed Danny Worth to score to put Detroit ahead, 4-3.
That was a four-run swing for the Tigers, who trailed the Indians 3-0 in the fourth inning. Ezequiel Carrera tagged Rick Porcello for a run-scoring triple in the third inning and the Indians added two more against the Detroit right-hander in the fourth. Jack Hannahan's sacrifice fly off Ryan Perry pulled the contest into a 4-4 deadlock in the eighth.
A familiar face came back to haunt the Indians in the end, though. Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta -- the former Indians infielder -- launched his 21st home run in the home half of the eighth, sending the first pitch he saw from Pestano into the left-field seats to put the Indians behind for the final time this season.
It was an ill-fated blast that Pestano knows he will have a hard time shaking off.
"Right now, it's tough," Pestano said. "I'm sure tomorrow I'll start trying to get over it, but it's something that's going to carry with me for a few months for sure."
Following those cold months will be another Spring Training.
And Acta believes there is plenty to be hopeful about next year.
"We made great strides," Acta said. "We fell short, but we had a lot of great moments. Some of the things that happened we couldn't control. Hopefully, we're going to be in it for a few years with the young core of players that we have here."
Hafner echoed that sentiment.
"There are a lot of positives on the season," he said. "Our young players really developed. Our pitching staff really took some strides forward. We got off to a great start to the season. We had a lot of come-from-behind wins at home. I think we really got the excitement back as far as baseball in Cleveland. I think everybody's excited for next year.
"Obviously, our goal coming in was to win our division and make the playoffs. We came up short there, but certainly you look around and you see all the young talent that we have in the clubhouse and things definitely look bright for the future."