With a 5-3 victory Wednesday afternoon over the Detroit Tigers, the Indians have the longest winning streak in American League history and the longest in baseball in 82 years. Their 21st straight win pushed them past the 2002 Oakland A’s, who won 20 straight, and tied them with the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the longest in the sport’s modern era (not counting the 26 straight wins, interrupted by a tie, of the 1916 New York Giants).
Win No. 21 — spelled out, it looks like this: WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW — came courtesy of 5 2/3 innings of effective pitching from Indians starter Mike Clevinger, who sports a 4-0 record and 0.38 ERA over the course of the streak; 3 1/3 spotless innings from a quartet of relievers out of their superb bullpen; and timely home runs from Jay Bruce and Roberto Perez, the former an August trade acquisition, the latter a backup catcher batting .219.
As closer Cody Allen collected the final outs, a crowd of 29,346, day-drunk on wins, stood and roared its approval. On Thursday, the Indians will host the Kansas City Royals with a chance to stand alone with 22 straight wins.
The last time the Indians lost a game, on Aug. 23, Hurricane Harvey was still churning off the Gulf of Mexico and was two days from making landfall in Texas. The cover of Sports Illustrated on newsstands that week was asking whether the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team ever. Indians outfielder Greg Allen was still nine days away from making his big league debut; nearly two weeks into his career, he has yet to know what it feels like to lose in the majors.
“They’re enjoying themselves,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said of his players. “And they should. It’s pretty special.”
But that is about as close as anyone wearing an Indians uniform will get to acknowledging what the rest of baseball is obsessing over: a streak that is remarkable not just for its length but for the sheer daily dominance it puts on display, perhaps shown most explicitly in the plus-104 run-differential the Indians have managed during its course. They have a 1.57 team ERA and a .939 team OPS during the streak, and their bullpen hasn’t allowed a run in nine days.
The daily game of reporters trying to bait the Indians into talking about The Streak in breathless, astonished sound bites has become almost comical. It’s as if the Indians have imposed an internal fine system whereupon a player or staff member is docked every time they utter the word “streak.”
“I feel like we’re just showing up on the field to play,” Clevinger said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re going after something, other than that same goal to finish October on top.”
When someone asked Bruce whether the team’s accomplishment has sunk in, he fired back: “Absolutely not. We’re so focused. Everyone talks about the streak” — oops, that’s a fine! — “and being consumed with it, but what consumes us is the daily schedule and the game we have to get ready for … Our focus tends to stay so right where we are and then move to the next, and then move to the next.
“We don’t have time to worry about what happened in the past and we definitely don’t have time to worry about what could happen in the future.”
On Wednesday, when Clevinger put the Indians in a 1-0 hole in the top of the first, it was the first time they had trailed since Saturday. But by the time the inning was over, they led 3-1, thanks to Bruce’s three-run homer in the bottom half, which kept alive one of the most jaw-dropping stats from the streak: In 189 innings during these past 21 games, the Indians have still trailed at the end of only four.
“I don’t think there was a second that I doubted we were going to score some runs,” Clevinger said, “or string together some hits. I wasn’t just wishing we were going to score. I kind of knew that we were going to score, and what was I going to do to keep [Detroit’s run total] where it is.”
Everyone knew the 2017 Indians had the chance to be significantly better than the team that pushed the Cubs all the way to the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series 11 months ago before falling. That team had to make do in October without its Nos. 2 and 3 starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, as well as No. 3 hitter Michael Brantley — whom Francona has called “the heart and soul of the team” — and had not yet signed (in December) free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion or traded (last month) for outfielder Bruce, who have held down the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup since their arrivals.
At times, as when Trevor Bauer sliced up his hand while repairing a drone on an off-day, the Indians’ postseason rotation seemed to consist of ace Corey Kluber and whichever other pitchers were able to raise their arms above their heads on a given day.
But this year, Kluber not only is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, but Bauer and Carrasco are a combined 31-14, and Clevinger has pitched himself into the postseason rotation.
One major league scout in attendance this week, asked for his assessment of the Indians on Wednesday, chuckled and said, “They’re unbelievable. I mean, I don’t see a weakness. They can beat you in so many different ways.”
Equally scary is the fact the Indians are playing at about 85 percent their full capacity these days. All 21 wins of the streak have been achieved without the services of their primary leadoff and No. 3 hitters, Jason Kipnis and Brantley, as well as lefty Andrew Miller, the ace of their bullpen. All are working themselves back from injuries, with Miller set to rejoin the team this week, just in time to get back up to speed for the postseason.
A 21-game winning streak, of course, gets you nothing besides those 21 wins. The only other team since 1900 to win 21 straight, the ’35 Cubs, lost in the World Series. The last team to win 20 straight, the 2002 Oakland A’s, flamed out in the Division Series, while the Anaheim Angels, a wild-card team that finished four games behind Oakland in the AL West, went on to win the World Series. Meantime, Manager John McGraw’s 1916 Giants went 86-66 and finished fourth in the eight-team National League.
Of all the people to ask which streak should count as the record — the ’35 Cubs’ 21 straight, or the ’16 Giants’ run of 26 wins and a tie across 27 games — Francona was perhaps the least likely to give an informed opinion. And yet, someone tried Wednesday afternoon.
“I wasn’t there,” Francona, 58, deadpanned. “I have given that zero thought, I promise you.”
In the media, in the stands and in other corners of the game, The Streak may be a thing to gaze upon and admire, but to the Indians it is not one big creature, but 21 tiny ones, each representing a day when they showed up to work, did their jobs well and forgot about it, because there would be another game tomorrow.