Monday, September 18, 2017

Indians Streak: Wasn’t That a Time?

By Jeff Kallman

All good things must come to their finish, sooner or later. The Indians and their fans would have preferred the streak to finish later, of course, and likewise most of baseball and its lovers. But as the ancient folk song says, "Wasn't that a time?"

"What they did over there was amazing," said Royals manager Ned Yost, after his charges hung on for the 4-3 win that put an end to the Indians' romp. "I mean, it's utterly amazing. It's just unfathomable for me that you can go three weeks without losing a game. I mean, it was a tremendous accomplishment."

When Jose Ramirez hammered a Jason Vargas service on 1-0 into the runway between two portions of left field seats with one aboard in the bottom of the third Friday, hammering out a 3-1 Indians lead, the Indian Isles had reason enough to believe.

Weren't these the Royals, after all, those hearty, hardy, but halting fellows trying desperately but perhaps futilely for a final October run, before the remaining nucleus of their 2014 pennant winner and 2015 World Series conqueror went, most likely, to free agency and elsewhere?

And wasn't Trevor Bauer finding ways to pitch to contact, making the Royals send whatever they hit toward Indian gloves, for the most part? Didn't he shake off Alcides Escobar's one-out launch into the left field seats in the top of the second and Alex Gordon's followup double?

Alas, the Royals, now 17 and a half out in the American League Central and four games out in the wild card race, and likely having little left for which to play except stubborn pride and maybe spoiling it for a few of the other guys, refused to go gently into that good dark blue night in Cleveland, a night after the Indians made it 22 straight at their expense and at the last minute.

On Thursday night, the Indians did to the Royals what they hadn't done all streak long, believe it or not. Nothing was missing from the streak except a hair-raiser of a walk-off, and when Francisco Lindor rifled a game-tying double to left with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, it set the table for Jay Bruce, the expatriate Met after distinguished but often futile service in Cincinnati, to walk off Number 22 with a lacing double to right.

The Indian Isles dared to dream the only thing that could possibly stop the Tribe's winning streak was some ornery postseason opponent who might yet prove a mere hiccup on the way to the Indians doing what they haven't done since 1948. Darn that dream.

Because on Friday night Brandon Moss, himself in enough moments of postseason triumph during the Giants' staggering runs, opened the top of the fourth with a drive over the center field wall to close the Kansas City deficit to a run. Two innings later, a pair of Royals postseason standouts, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, arranged to tie it up at three, Cain whacking a one-out double and Hosmer sending him home with a single to left.

And in the top of the sixth, after Alex Gordon singled his way aboard in between a pair of called strikeouts, a single that sent Bauer out of the game and brought Joe Smith in, Cain followed Whit Merrifield's single and shot one through the box, past Smith's glove, and beneath Lindor diving hard to his left behind second base, with Gordon on his horse and across the plate in a near-leisurely trot to make it 4-3.

The Indians gave themselves every chance to overthrow that deficit from that point forward, largely because the Royals handed those chances to them on platters. Three walks in the following three innings produced nothing.

The Indians stranded Edwin Encarnacion after his leadoff walk in the sixth. Roberto Perez drew a leadoff walk and Lindor drew a followup walk in the seventh, but Austin Jackson killed both Lindor and pinch runner Tyler Naquin by dialing Area Code 6-4-3 to end it. And Bruce, Thursday night's co-hero, could only whack a grounder to short for the side after Carlos Santana drew a two-out walk in the eighth.

That's when the Royals decided they'd handed out enough gifts on the evening, even to these Indians, with Mike Minor on to pitch the ninth bent on making the Indians earn whatever they got. So, with the ballpark making a World Series-worthy racket, Yandy Diaz opened with a shuttlecock single. And his pinch runner Abraham Almonte closed where he was as Minor went from there to strike out the side.

"It was kind of deafening. I couldn't hear anybody," said Minor of the racket through which he went to work. "But I like those moments." He has a lot more to like about Friday night's work. He can tell his eventual grandchildren that he nailed his first major league save by finishing off an American League record winning streak, a night after he worked an inning and a third to pick up his 17th hold and fifth of the month.

The Prog showered the Indians with a grand ovation after it ended. The Indians already clinched a postseason trip Friday night; now comes the division title clinch for which the magic number is two.

"It wasn't like we got just blown out or anything," said Bruce, who's obviously and otherwise thrilled to the marrow to have been sent from the depths of the Mets' injury-instigated collapse to the heights of the Indians' pennant race. "I think (we need) to have a bit of a light-hearted attitude about it all, and not take it too hard, obviously, because we're in a great position. We just did something that, depending on who you ask, one or no teams have ever done. So, it's one of those deals where we understand what the situation is, and this is not something that would happen very often."

And a nation battered by the swath of destruction created by an unholy couple named Harvey and Irma got a phenomenal morale boost watching the Indians — the Indians, of all people, who got thatclose to winning last year's World Series, who streaked themselves into favorites to win this year's Series, pending the postseason's genius for surreal odds unmaking — play baseball as if they'd forgotten how to lose.

They also diverted people from things such as the shenanigans in Washington (the government, not the Nationals), the cluttered wild card picture (particularly in the American League), and the Dodgers' stupefying collapse — though with Friday's shutout against the Orioles the Dodgers have now won three straight after a surreal sixteen losses in seventeen games including an eleven-game losing streak.

Think of these things, too, while you're at it, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:

* The Indians out-scored the opposition by 105 runs during the streak. They were the first team with that fat a run differential in 22 games since the 1939 Yankees.

* They also out-scored their opponents 69-14 during the first three innings throughout the streak.

* Six of the 22 wins came by blowouts of 10 or more runs, including the 13-6 shellacking they laid on Chris Sale and the Red Sox to start the streak.

* Lindor led the Tribe with 20 runs batted in during the streak, but 12 Indians had at least five RBI and six had at least 10 during the streak.

* Seventeen Indians had at least one extra-base hit during the streak, and in the same 22 games that was the most in the Show.

* They set a new record for home runs during a winning streak of any length, sending 41 into the seats over the 22 games.

* That was also more home runs hit than the runs the Indians allowed (37) during the streak.

* Cleveland pitching threw 7 shutouts during the streak, the most in Show during the span. (That's also more than the season-long shutout totals of 13 teams entering play Friday.)

* Eighteen Indians pitchers worked during the streak, with 15 having ERAs under 3.00, 13 below 2.00, and seven not allowing a run.

"Where do we go from here?" asked Indians manager Terry Francona after the verbal bubble bath from the fans in the stands? "It's up. Common sense said you're going to lose a game. It was a lot of fun."

It's liable to be even more fun now that the Indians wrapped up the AL Central, clinching Saturday when they beat the Royals while the Twins lost to the Blue Jays. Now they can get back to the serious business of preparing for what they hope is a long postseason, ending with them as the last team standing this time.

The streak is over, but wasn't that a time?

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