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Bucky Gleason: Indians quietly take rightful place in history with 20th straight win

On Tuesday, with the Indians on the brink of tying the record for the longest winning streak since 1960, it left me to wonder: How many self-proclaimed sports junkies could name five players on a Cleveland roster that had the best record in the American League and the second-best record in baseball?

The Indians lost the seventh game of the World Series in extra innings last season, yet a majority would have a difficult time remembering them. Quick, who was the starting pitcher in their ALCS-clinching win over Toronto? Why it was lefty Ryan Merritt, who continues to shut down teams despite his 86 mph fastball.

Cleveland won its 20th straight game, a 2-0 victory over Detroit Tuesday at Progressive Field, matching the 2002 A's of "Moneyball" fame for the second-longest streak of the modern era. The Cubs won 21 straight games in 1935, when the National League counted the abysmal Boston Braves (38-115) among its eight teams.

The Indians quietly continued Tuesday the way they have since the streak began. Corey Kluber threw a five-hitter and struck out eight for his 16th victory. Francisco Lindor led off with his 30th homer. The Tribe played flawless defense, scored another run on a wild pitch in the sixth and cruised.  Their 19th win was much the same when Carlos Carrasco threw six scoreless innings in an 11-0 victory.

Cleveland had won 11 straight on the road, but the streak still managed to sneak up on people. Barely anyone noticed until they swept the Orioles and reached 18 straight wins. It begged the question, as anyone from Buffalo would understand: If the cheers come from Cleveland, does it make a sound?

For weeks, manager Terry Francona has had the Tribe playing like the '27 Yankees – only exponentially better. The '27 Yanks, who won the World Series with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, assuming you have heard of them, finished with a 110-44 record without winning more than nine games in a row.

Cleveland outscored its opponents 134-32 and posted seven shutouts over the 20 games, dominating like none other since 1900. The '35 Cubs outscored their opponents, 137-50, during their streak. The 1947 Yankees, who won 19 straight, scored 119 runs and allowed 41 during their roll.

It wasn't as if the Tribe was quietly squeaking past teams. Only three games during the streak were decided by one run. They won 13 games by four runs or more. They scored 10 runs or more six times and allowed two runs or fewer 14 times. In less than three weeks, their 4½-game lead in the AL Central ballooned to 13½ games.

Cleveland is winning with pitching and defense and manufacturing runs without relying solely on the long ball. Francona is one of the best in the business. They're a reflection of their manager and brainy GM Mike Chernoff. In their view, they didn't win 20 straight games. They won one game 20 consecutive times. And it happened because their players understood the difference.

Let me be clear: The (W)Indians aren't just hot. They're good and have been for some time. They won 14 in a row last season. Far more astonishing than their roll this year is the Dodgers still owning the best record in baseball (92-52) after losing 11 straight games. It's a matter of time before the math takes over. It always does, particularly in baseball.

And that's why baseball's streak is the most impressive in sports. The Lakers' 33-game game streak was made easier by Wilt Chamberlain's size advantage and Jerry West, among other greats, in a league lacking parity. The same goes for UCLA's 88-game streak in basketball and UConn's 111-game run in women's hoops.

New England won 21 straight games because it had Tom Brady and the most talent in the NFL. Edwin Moses winning the 400-meter hurdles 122 consecutive races, and Byron Nelson winning 11 straight golf tournaments aren't likely to be touched. Both were giants in individual sports.

Baseball is a different monster, which is why nobody has come within 10 games of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Baseball has so many factors working against the offense, starting with pitching, that contribute to defying the odds. It takes talent and incredible focus to win 20 straight. Dumb luck often plays a role.

The beauty in the Indians' streak is that they're winning with a roster that mostly reflects their proud fan base, without Aaron Judge-sized names. Cleveland had the 19th-highest payroll, according to salary watchdog, $13 million below the average. No team was getting more bang for their buck than the Tribe.

Although they sent five players to the All-Star Game in July, only Jose Ramirez was voted into the game by the fans. Corey Kluber was selected by the commissioner's office while Andrew Miller, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley were chosen by their contemporaries. Insiders knew their talent.

Elsewhere, it remained a secret.

Kluber is 16-4 with a 2.44 ERA. Carrasco is 15-6 with a 3.41 ERA.  Trevor Bauer is 16-8 with a 4.33 ERA. Merritt, promoted from the minors, was 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA. Cody Allen had 26 saves.

Eighteen position players were used, and eight different pitchers earned wins over the 20 games. More telling is that only seven games during the stretch included save opportunities. They have a team 1.71 ERA and a .308 batting average since the streak began. It's mind-boggling.

Going into the game Tuesday, the Indians didn't have anyone in the top 25 in RBIs among AL batters. Lindor, Ramirez and Carlos Santana were in the top 40. Edwin Encarnacion was tied for seventh in the AL with 34 homers. Lindor, Ramirez and Santana had 23 or more. Nobody else had more than 12.

The Indians' streak, and their success last season, was largely without Brantley. He's their most complete player when healthy but hasn't been in the lineup since Aug. 8. Francona patched together his outfield while getting production from the likes of veteran Austin Jackson and rookie Bradley Zimmer.

Zimmer, a former first-round pick, was in the lineup for all but four games of the streak before suffering a season-ending broken hand. The Indians were 27 games over .500 in games he played this season and 21 games over .500 in games he started. I'll bet most fans didn't know about him.

Until recently, neither did I.


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