Who could have ever imagined that 117 years later, in the bicentennial year of the Maple City, the Cleveland Indians franchise would become the first team in AL history to win 21 straight games?
With Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in front of 29,346 fans at Progressive Field, the Indians surpassed the Oakland A’s record of 20 straight wins set in 2002.
The streak of 21 matches the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second-longest streak since 1900. Cleveland is within five wins of catching the 1916 New York Giants, who suddenly have a hotly-debated streak of 26 straight without a loss — because the mark includes a tie.
Right fielder Jay Bruce — acquired from the New York Mets on Aug. 1 — spoke for just about everyone following the game. His three-run home run in the first inning proved to be the difference in the historic win.
“I have not seen anything like this,” Bruce said. “I saw the Moneyball movie (based on the Oakland A’s streak). Who would have ever thought we’d be in this situation? I think we won 10 or 11 games in a row with the Reds once. But no, this is way past anything I could have imagined.”
Bruce certainly isn’t alone with that mindset.
After coming agonizingly close to winning Game 7 of the World Series last November, this was a season met with sky-high expectations. However, for the better part of four months, the Indians were a team that lacked consistency and couldn’t catch a break with injuries.
Once the streak reached double digits, it felt like this was the team we all thought we were going to get once the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion just before Christmas.
But this? I’m sorry, but this is more than just a winning streak.
It’s the single-most dominant stretch for a sustained-period in the entire history of baseball. Cleveland has outscored teams by a staggering 139-35 margin in those 21 wins.
The Indians aren’t just winning games, though Detroit made them fight for everything in each of the past two days. Think about it. For three weeks, the Tribe has beaten teams by an average score of 7-2. They have hit more home runs as a team (41) than the pitching staff has allowed runs (35) during the streak.
“I would say that it’s surreal,” said Wednesday’s winning pitcher, the unlikely Mike Clevinger. “I kind of feel like we’re just showing up to the field to play. It doesn’t feel like we’re going after something besides that same goal to finish October on top.”
And there comes the one main quarrel with the streak. There are fears the team is peaking too soon, or that a letdown is coming once the Indians inevitably lose again — and the timing will be hurtful.
The goal here is obvious: end the drought of 69 years dating back to the last World Series championship in 1948. Again, when you come within a swing of winning arguably the greatest World Series Game 7 ever played — the expectation with a loaded team is certainly to go back and finish the job.
But I plead with everyone — appreciate what you are seeing. Given that it’s been 82 years since a team last won 21 straight, we’re likely never going to see this again.
Everyone wants the Indians to win the World Series. As someone who sat blank-faced for 30 minutes after it ended inside Progressive Field last November, no one gets that more than I do.
There is a World Series winner every single year. But a streak like this? Almost never. I know we all fall into the trap of focusing on the final result.
Almost no one talks about the 2001 Seattle Mariners, which won 116 games. All anyone remembers about the 2007 New England Patriots was the lone loss in the Super Bowl. Over time, the 73-win Golden State Warriors of two seasons ago will be more talked about for not winning the NBA title.
But what the Indians have done — the most dominant and sustained winning streak we’ve ever seen — is more impressive than winning a World Series, even if that’s not the end result in a couple of months.
And perhaps more impressive: It’s being done by a team easy to root for; one that doesn’t even understand quite what is happening themselves.
“Oh absolutely not,” Bruce said when asked if what the Tribe has accomplished has sunk in. “We’re so focused … everyone talks about the streak and being consumed with it. What has consumed us is the daily schedule and game we have to get ready for. I thought we were playing the Royals today. I was talking last night and it was like, ‘oh wait, we have another game against the Tigers.’ I think our focus tends to stay so right where we are, then move to the next, and move to the next.”
Mark Hazelwood is Reflector sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.