Tigers battle, but fall as Tribe wins 21st straight
By Jordan Bastian and Jason Beck
CLEVELAND -- There was a moment on Wednesday afternoon when it felt like this incredible run by the Indians might finally find its finish line. Jay Bruce quickly saw to it that such thoughts were fleeting, delivering a first-inning home run that kept Cleveland's magic alive and helped the team go where no American League club had previously gone.
With their 5-3 victory over the Tigers, the Indians set an AL record with 21 consecutive victories, surpassing the mark that the A's established 15 years ago. Cleveland moved into a tie with the 1935 Cubs for the second-longest winning streak in baseball history.
If the Indians do keep the streak alive, there is one more historic team to potentially chase down. The Major League record is 26 straight wins, achieved by the 1916 Giants, from Sept. 7-30 of that year.
Bruce was asked if the historic nature of the Indians' streak has sunk in.
"Oh, absolutely not," Bruce said. "We're so focused. You know everyone talks about the streak and being consumed with it. What consumes us is the daily kind of schedule and game we have to get ready for."
One of the trademarks of this Tribe streak has been striking first, but Detroit temporarily flipped the script in the finale of this series at Progressive Field. Indians starter Mike Clevinger surrendered a run-scoring double to Jeimer Candelario in the opening frame, representing only the second time in the past 21 games that Cleveland did not notch the first run.
Any doubts that were creeping throughout the packed house were swiftly subsided.
"Expected," Clevinger said of Cleveland's quick answer.
In the bottom of the first, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez -- catalysts for Cleveland's offense this season, and especially over the past three weeks -- doubled and drew a walk, respectively. That set the stage for Bruce, who slashed a 1-1 offering from Detroit's Buck Farmer high over left field, where it just cleared the 19-foot wall. The crowd erupted accordingly, knowing the ball hit the yellow line.
"You're one pitch away, and he beats you oppo over the big wall. It's definitely frustrating after you take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first," Tigers catcher James McCann said. "At the same time, you have to tip your cap. They haven't won 21 in a row by accident."
Bruce's blast was his 34th of the season and fifth since being acquired by the Indians last month. All the AL Central-leading Tribe has done since he donned a Cleveland uniform is win 30 out of 35 games.
Needless to say, Bruce's transition to the Tribe has gone better than anyone could've hoped.
"You can't ask for any more," Bruce said. "I am so fortunate to be a part of this and just happy that I can help out where and when I can. I've said it a million times: This team was awesome before I got here, and I feel like I just added to what was already a super deep and talented lineup. We have so many ways to win games, it's amazing."
With this latest win, the Indians lowered their magic number to four to clinch the division, maintained their status as the AL's top team and pulled within 3 1/2 games of the Dodgers, pending the result of Los Angeles' late game against the Giants, for the best record in the Majors.
"I feel like we're just showing up to the field and playing," Clevinger said. "It doesn't feel like we're going after something, besides that same goal to finish October on top."
After Bruce's home run propelled the Indians to a 3-1 lead, Cleveland tacked on another run in the third courtesy of an RBI single from Edwin Encarnacion. That fourth run proved crucial, as Detroit threatened again in the sixth. Nicholas Castellanos ripped a run-scoring double and Andrew Romine contributed an RBI single, pulling the Tigers within one run and ending Clevinger's day at 5 2/3 innings.
The Tigers got no further, and the Indians' bullpen helped polish off win No. 21.
"Last two games, we put up a fight," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We gave them a game. Quite frankly, they're better than us right now. Simple as that."
Roberto Perez's solo homer in the seventh -- the catcher's fourth during the winning streak -- made life a little easier for closer Cody Allen. The hard-throwing righty struck out Tyler Collins and induced a flyout from Jose Iglesias. The Cleveland crowd began to roar in anticipation of what might come next.
"In the ninth, that's when I got a little bit nervous," Perez said. "Not nervous, [like] scared, but I knew we were going to tie the record or whatever -- for 21 straight. It was nice to see that, that ovation."
For the record-setting out, Ian Kinsler pulled a low liner to left, where Lonnie Chisenhall made a sliding catch to set off the celebration.
"It's pretty cool. It's definitely an honor," Allen said of the streak. "But it's part of the process. Ultimately, we're trying to win as many games as we can. If you can win them all in a row, great. If you can win every series, you're just trying to play good baseball that day.
"Today, we played a couple runs better than they did. Tomorrow, we're going to try to show up and do the same thing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED 'Berto's insurance blast: The Tribe's bullpen received a little more breathing room in the seventh, when Perez drilled an 0-2 solo home run to center. The shot had an exit velocity of 105 mph and traveled a projected 428 feet, per Statcast™. The catcher has not only helped lead the Indians' stellar pitching staff throughout the streak, but he's been on a tear offensively. Within the team's past 21 wins, Perez has hit .378/.439/.811 in 41 plate appearances.
"I think he's just a better hitter than he was showing earlier [in the year]," Francona said. "I think that's kind of it. I think when he sets his direction up the middle, he's going to pull balls naturally because he's strong, but he's able to hit more pitches than when he's just thinking pull."
Gio's gems:Giovanny Urshela entered the game at third base in the seventh to upgrade the defense, and the move paid off in a big way. After a fielding error by reliever Bryan Shaw put runners at first and second with one out in the eighth, John Hicks chopped a pitch to the left side. Urshela ranged to his left, snared the ball with a dive and fired from his knees to nab Candelario for a forceout at second base. Urshela followed that with a slick play on a grounder from Romine for the frame's final out.
"We've said it time and time again, and I like saying it," Francona said. "He's an elite defender, and it's not the easiest thing to do go in in the middle of the game, but he brings elite defense when he goes in. And that's why he goes in."
Goody's escape: A throwing error by Indians starting third baseman Yandy Diaz helped create a window of opportunity for the Tigers in the sixth. Miguel Cabrera reached and moved up to second on the play, setting up the RBI hits from Castellanos and Romine. At that juncture, Francona turned to Nick Goody, who struck out JaCoby Jones swinging to stop Detroit's push.
"He's been solid this whole year," Clevinger said. "Coming in a big spot like that, one-run ballgame -- I don't even know if he realized it was one run. He was just attacking hitters. It was awesome to see."
"I don't think you see that electric of an atmosphere every September noon game. So yeah, I think that added pressure lets us stay locked in. I know we've got a good lead in the division and stuff, but this just allows us to stay on the same track and keep our work steady." --Clevinger, on the streak providing a postseason-like environment
"I was pretty excited. I was looking at the scoreboard and saw the video. I said, 'How'd I throw that ball like that?' That was crazy to throw that. But that was a good play." -- Urshela, on his diving play in the eighth
"That's a good ballclub. They're playing unbelievable right now. Everything seems to be going their way." -- Hicks
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With his double in the third inning, Ramirez became the eighth player in Indians history to have at least 80 extra-base hits in a season, joining Manny Ramirez (three times), Earl Averill (three), Hal Trosky (twice), Albert Belle (twice), Grady Sizemore (once), Tris Speaker (once) and Ed Morgan (once). Sizemore was the last to do it with 92 in 2006. Belle holds the club record with 103 in 1995.
The Indians have not trailed at the end of 185 of 189 full innings during the 21-game streak, while outscoring their opponents, 68-13, in the first three frames combined.
MCCANN, AUSMUS EJECTED
McCann and Ausmus were both ejected in the bottom of the third inning for arguing balls and strikes after Bruce drew a two-out walk from Farmer following an 0-2 count. Home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott ejected McCann as Ausmus was heading out to the mound. Ausmus separated McCann from Wolcott, then argued before he was ejected.
"There's pitches early on that were borderline that I thought could've gone either way," McCann said. "We didn't get them. If he's not going to give them to them, then I'm not going to say anything. I felt like he was giving them to them. We had dialogue, and it just kind of built up over the course of three innings or whatever it was. I felt like I had to say my piece." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers:Chad Bell (0-2, 5.79 ERA) gets the start on Thursday as the Tigers begin their final homestand of the season with a 1:10 p.m. ET game against the White Sox at Comerica Park. The matinee opens a four-game weekend series between the two rebuilding clubs.
Indians: As Cleveland eyes its 22nd straight win, righty Josh Tomlin (9-9, 5.13 ERA) is slated to take the ball for the Tribe in a 7:10 p.m. ET tilt with the Royals on Thursday, opening a four-game set between the clubs at Progressive Field. In his past six starts, Tomlin has gone 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 27 strikeouts against two walks in 35 innings.