CLEVELAND — Look at these Indians, all grown up.
Fresh off learning to drive and registering to vote, their winning streak has turned 21.
Drink up, Cleveland.
You’ll never see another baseball team like this one.
The Indians continued their unstoppable foray into history on Wednesday, surpassing the AL record for consecutive wins and matching the majors’ longest streak in more than a century with a 5-3 victory over the Tigers before a near-sellout matinee crowd at Progressive Field.
From the game’s earliest days of bare-handed fielders, whiskey-medicated pitchers, and Toledo officially fielding a major league team (the Blue Stockings in 1884) all the way to the Glass City unofficially fielding one this week (half of the Tigers’ lineup played for the Mud Hens this year), baseball has been waged at the highest level for 142 years.
Only one team has more successive wins: the 1916 New York Giants — and their streak included a tie!
By the end Wednesday, Cleveland rocked like it was October, the 29,346 fans in attendance roaring in anticipation of the final out. The place came down when Lonnie Chisenhall pulled in Jose Iglesias’ screamer to left.
“Absolutely awesome,” said newly acquired slugger Jay Bruce, who touched off the Tribe’s latest play-from-ahead win with a three-run homer in the first inning.
Can it get, well, more awesome?
Depends on what happens next.
For all the magic of this one-in-a-million streak —one that soon enough may be old enough to have a family of its own — the truth is the Indians are feigning to pay it little mind.
Day after day, they recite the same day-by-day bromides — “I thought we were playing the Royals today,” Bruce said — and the message is clear.
Cleveland has bigger goals to fry.
The defending AL champions know their season will be defined by the whims of October, and for good reason. The Indians — with a deep lineup, deeper pitching, and the best manager in the game — are the most balanced and perhaps the best team in baseball.
And our early pick to deliver Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948.
Sure, no one will confuse an all-time streak with an all-time team. Baseball is a funny game that way. A very good team can run historically hot for three weeks and a very good team can go historically cold for nearly as long, and neither streak much foreshadows the legends of the fall.
The other three teams to win at least 20 straight games? The 2002 Athletics (20), the 1935 Cubs (21), and the 1916 Giants (26) all fell short of a title.
Odds are Cleveland will, too. The baseball playoffs are the biggest stab-in-the-dark in sports, and any one of the Indians’ looming postseason rivals could easily knock them off in a short series.
But if we were to pick one team, it’s the Indians. A 21-game winning streak may be a random occurrence, but Cleveland’s success is not. The Tribe is 42-11 since starting 48-45.
“To me, they are the best team in baseball,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “No knock on the Dodgers or the Astros, but I think this is the most balanced team and probably the biggest threat to anybody trying to win a World Series. Because they do cover every facet of the game.”
They really do.
For our money, the two biggest factors in the postseason are your ace and your bullpen, and the Indians have the very best of both. Corey Kluber continues to refine his case for the Cy Young Award while diabolical fireman Andrew Miller is set to rejoin Cleveland’s league-leading cast of relievers Thursday.
But beyond that, they have it all. The best starting pitching in baseball (3.67 ERA). One of the best defenses. (Third baseman Giovanny Urshela is a nightly one-man highlight show.) A lineup suddenly so deep they no longer have room for two-time all star Jason Kipnis. The second baseman will experiment in center field when he returns from the disabled list next week.
So, yes, the streak is fun, historic, something we’ll never see here again.
“They should enjoy what they’re doing,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “It’s pretty special.”
But if it means a lot, what happens next will mean a whole lot more.
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