CLEVELAND — For more than 100 years, American League teams have gone on winning streaks of varying lengths — short ones, long ones, double-digit ones.
Nothing, though, like the one the Cleveland Indians have pieced together.
A streak for the ages.
Moving past the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics, the Indians set the AL record with their 21st straight win on Wednesday, 5-3 over the Detroit Tigers, to join only two other teams in the past 101 years to win that many consecutive games.
Jay Bruce hit a three-run homer off Buck Farmer (4-3) and Mike Clevinger (10-5) won his fourth straight start as the Indians, a team with its sights set on ending the majors’ longest World Series title drought, matched the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second-longest streak since 1900.
And in doing so, they separated themselves from every AL team since the league was formed in 1901.
“Who would’ve ever thought that we’d be in this situation?” Bruce said. “I can’t even imagine.”
Now that they’ve moved past those 2002 A’s immortalized on film, the Indians are within five wins of catching the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 straight without a loss but whose century-old mark includes a tie.
The Indians haven’t lost in 20 days, and they’ve rarely been challenged during a late-season run in which they’ve dominated every aspect of the game.
“I think they’re enjoying themselves,” manager Terry Francona said as clubhouse music boomed in the background. “They should. I think what’s kind of cool about our game is when you do things, and you do them the right way, I think it means more. Our guys are playing the game to win, the right way.
“That part’s very meaningful. They should enjoy what they’re doing. It’s pretty special.”
After leading 4-1, the Indians had to overcome a costly error and rely on their bullpen to hold off the Tigers, who have lost 11 of 12 to Cleveland and saw manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann ejected from the series finale.
Roberto Perez added a homer in the seventh and four Cleveland relievers finished, with Cody Allen working the ninth for his 27th save.
With the crowd of 29,346 standing and stomping, Allen retired Ian Kinsler on a sinking liner for the final out, giving the Indians the league’s longest streak since the AL was founded 116 years ago.
There was no big celebration afterward as the Indians simply congratulated one another and stuck to their routine.
“We’re so focused,” said Bruce, who arrived via trade last month from the New York Mets. “I thought we were playing the Royals today. … Everyone comes here and gets ready to play today and I think that’s something that speaks volumes.”
During their streak, which began with a 13-6 win over Boston ace Chris Sale on Aug. 23, the Indians have rarely been tied, never mind equaled, for nine innings. They have been superior in every way possible.
Cleveland’s starters have gone 19-0 with a 1.70 ERA, they’ve outscored their opponents 139-35 and trailed in only four of 189 innings.
Incredibly, the Indians have hit more home runs (40) than their pitchers have given up in total runs.
And while they’ve racked up win after win, the defending AL champs have reduced their magic number for winning their second straight AL Central title to four. They’ve also passed Houston for the league’s best record, which will come into play in the postseason as the team with the best overall mark will have home-field advantage.
Now that they’re alongside the 1935 Cubs, the Indians have a realistic shot of running down the 1916 Giants.
Cleveland opens four-game series on Thursday against Kansas City, which was outscored 20-0 on its three-day visit last month.
Francona was asked if he thought the Giants’ run should be the record since it includes a tie.
“I wasn’t there,” he said, drawing laughter. “I’ve given that zero thought. I promise you I’ve given it no thought.”
With a shot at AL history, Clevinger took the mound with Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” blasting through the ballpark’s sound system, and Cleveland’s crowd came to rock — and witness history — on a mostly sunny day.
Some parents kept their kids home from school and brought them to Progressive Field to see a once-in-a-lifetime event Cleveland residents may remember more than any solar eclipse. They cheered every two-strike count like it was October and there was something much bigger on the line. The Indians have viewed the streak as a perfect postseason warmup as they try to end a Series title drought dating to 1948.
Clevinger, who didn’t allow a run in 18 innings over his three previous starts, was down 1-0 in the first after Jeimer Candelario touched him for a two-out RBI double.
But as they have done for the past three weeks, the Indians responded, with Bruce connecting for a three-run shot into the left-field bleachers.
“Expected, I would say by now,” Clevinger said of the Indians’ 3-run answer. “I don’t think there was a second that I doubted we were going to score some runs or string together some hits.”
At 14-0, the Indians are off to the best start in September since the 1991 Minnesota Twins went 15-0.
Two batters after Ausms and McCann were ejected, a pitch from Farmer eluded catcher John Hicks, who had just entered the game, and struck plate umpire Quinn Wolcott in the chest.
Farmer disputed that the Tigers would try to intentionally hit Wolcott.
“The fact that’s even a question is appalling,” Farmer said. “It shouldn’t be a question. When you look at the situation it’s stupid to even think about. It shouldn’t even be a thought from anybody that Hicks and I would do that.”
Tigers: OF Mikie Mahtook missed his fifth consecutive game after being scratched from a Sept. 9 game against Toronto with left groin soreness. Ausmus said Mahtook was “getting closer, but he’s not ready.”
Indians: All-Star reliever Andrew Miller will be activated from the disabled list Thursday following his second stint on the disabled list with knee tendinitis.
The Indians’ Josh Tomlin, who is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last six outings, starts the opener against Royals rookie Jakob Junis.