By Tom Withers The Associated Press
CLEVELAND — Just a little more than a month ago, Jay Bruce was in New York sinking with the Mets as a season that began with promise and a richness of pitching was undermined by injuries.
The plunge was dramatic. So was the rise.
A trade rescued Bruce and dropped him in Cleveland, where he made history on Wednesday.
“I pretty much went from the least fun situation in baseball to the most fun,” he said.
Bruce hit a three-run homer in the first inning as the Indians set the AL record with their 21st straight win, a 5-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers that pushed Cleveland closer to another division title and within reach of a 101-year mark that has come under scrutiny because of a peculiarity.
Unbeaten and nearly unchallenged for three weeks, the Indians surpassed the “Moneyball” 2002 Oakland Athletics for the league record and tied the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second longest streak since 1900.
The only team to win more consecutive games was the 1916 New York Giants, who won 12 in a row, played a tie that was ended by rain and replayed, and then won 14 more.
Despite the tie, the Giants’ streak is acknowledged as the record by Elias Sports Bureau, Major League’s Baseball’s statistical watchdog. The flaw in the record has perturbed some fans. Not the Indians.
“I’ve given that zero thought,” manager Terry Francona said when asked if he regarded 21 or 26 as the record. “I promise you I’ve given it no thought.”
That’s been the attitude of his players, who have gone 21-0 with minimal celebrating. When closer Cody Allen got the final out, retiring Ian Kinsler on a sinking liner to left field, the 29,000 fans who hung on every pitch inside Progressive Field as if it was Game 7 of the World Series, erupted as flames shot from over the centre-field wall and fireworks exploded overhead.
The Indians didn’t mob each other or carry on as if it was a big deal. They’ve got more important games ‚Äî and hopefully victories ‚Äî ahead of them.
Cleveland’s first World Series title since 1948 remains the only goal for a team built to win.
“We don’t have time to worry about what happened in the past and we definitely don’t have any time to worry about what’s going to happen in the future,” Bruce said. “We have a group of guys here, coaching staff and just a whole organization that kind of echoes that sentiment. It’s something that we haven’t had to deal with and there’s been no pulling the reins back on people or hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“Everyone comes here and gets ready to play and I think that’s something that speaks volumes.”
After the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first off Mike Clevinger (10-5), Bruce put Cleveland back on top for good with his three-run shot into the left-field bleachers. It was his 34th homer this season and fifth with the Indians, who acquired him on Aug. 9, an all-in move necessitated by All-Star Michael Brantley going on the disabled list with a serious ankle injury.
Bruce has provided protection for Cleveland slugger Edwin Encarnacion and given Francona even more depth in a lineup with no apparent holes.
“You make a mistake and he knows what to do with it,” Francona said.
When he met with reporters following the Indians’ historic win, Bruce wore a red T-shirt with Cleveland’s controversial smiling Chief Wahoo emblazoned on the front. There were moment when Bruce’s beamed just as brightly.
He’ll be a free agent after the season, but any thoughts about his future are on hold as he savors being on a team expected to play deep into October.
The Indians are 30-5 since Bruce arrived, and that may not be coincidence. He joked about “some selection bias” when asked if he’s changed the club’s fortunes.
“In all honesty, I feel like I do add something positive to this team,” he said. “This team has added something to me as well. It gives you a little boost. You come in, you’re ready to play, you want to come to the ballpark, and you’re coming into something that is bigger than yourself.”
After the Indians matched Oakland’s 15-year-old record with their 20th straight win Tuesday night, Bruce texted with Scott Hatteberg, a member of that celebrated A’s team that flopped in the post-season but gained fame in film. They were briefly teammates in Cincinnati.
“I just said, ‘Who would’ve thought?’” Bruce recalled. “And he said, ‘Good luck, win another one and win a ring.’”