By Tom Withers The Associated Press
CLEVELAND — On a winning streak that just won’t stop, the Cleveland Indians have posted shutouts, blowouts and routine wins.
All that was missing were a walk-off victory and extra innings.
“Check those two off,” closer Cody Allen said. “We’re checking all the boxes.”
And check this out: 22 in a row.
Jay Bruce hit an RBI double in the 10th inning ‚Äî after Francisco Lindor tied it with a clutch double in the ninth ‚Äî as the Indians rallied for their 22nd straight win to extend their AL record, beating the Kansas City Royals 3-2 on Thursday night to move within four wins of matching the 1916 New York Giants for the longest streak in major league history.
A three-week romp thought the league finally has some real drama to keep baseball’s longest winning streak in 101 years intact.
Even before the rally, Allen looked at his teammates in the bullpen and knew something special was about to happen.
“In the ninth, we were saying, ‘We’re gonna walk them off,’” said Allen (3-6). “We thought we were going to walk them off right there. You win enough games in a lot of different ways, you see what those guys are capable of.”
Allen and the Indians only had to wait a little longer until Jose Ramirez scored the winning run.
With the crowd signing “Jose, Jose, Jose,” Ramirez led off the 10th with a hard hit into right-centre off Brandon Maurer (2-2) that he turned into a double with a head-first slide. After Edwin Encarnacion walked, Bruce, the recent arrival who hit a three-run homer in win No. 21 on Wednesday, ripped a 2-0 pitch into the right-field corner.
As Progressive Field shook like it usually does in October, Bruce reached second base and was quickly mobbed by his teammates, who doused him with ice water and talcum powder while tearing the front of his jersey.
“Kids these days are throwing everything,” Bruce said with a laugh. “You never know what you’re going to get hit with out there. It’s my first jersey rip off, for sure. They didn’t get it all, though.”
These Indians aren’t stopping for anything.
Down to their last strike in the ninth, the Indians rallied to tie it at 2 off closer Kelvin Herrera, with Lindor delivering his shot off the left field wall, just above the leap of four-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon, to score pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez from first.
“The ball actually hit off the top of my glove,” Gordon said. “It was in a perfect spot where you had to decide whether to play it off the wall or go for it. I thought if I played it off the wall, he scores anyway, so I had to go for it.”
Lindor’s ball caromed off the wall and rolled slowly across the grass in left field, and 30,874 fans who have watched the Indians overpower teams for the last three weeks soon saw the AL Central leaders pull off their most dramatic win this season.
The Indians entered the day tied with the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second-longest streak, and now only trail those ‘16 Giants, who won 26 in a row ‚Äî all at home.
The Giants won 12 straight, played a 1-1 tie, and then won 14 in a row. But because the tied game was replayed from the start the next day, it didn’t technically count and therefore didn’t stop New York’s streak.
Unlike many of Cleveland’s game’s over the past three weeks, this one required a little late-innings work by the Indians, who have outscored their opponents 142-37 during this unimaginable run that has put on the cusp of another Central title and possibly finish with the league’s best record.
“This doesn’t really happen anywhere,” said Bruce, who came over in an Aug. 9 trade from the New York Mets. “You can hit that lull in September and even though you’ve got all but wrapped up the division, you know, the games can get long. They can get boring. They can get monotonous. We have a lot of things going for us that make it not like that.
“People are going crazy. It’s a playoff atmosphere. We’re trying to get the best record in baseball.”
If not for Lindor, the Indians’ streak would have stopped.
With one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin singled to left off Herrera, who then got rookie Francisco Mejia to bounce into a force. But Lindor, the blossoming superstar shortstop who has been Cleveland’s best hitter throughout the streak, came through with his double.
“For a second, when I hit it, I was like, ‘Oh no, I went the other way. I hit it to the wrong guy,’” Lindor said. “Then, I saw it hit the wall and the emotions were pretty high. Just seeing the whole entire crowd was fun, and then seeing your teammates screaming on the top step of the dugout is pretty special.”
So is this team.
On top of getting another win, the Indians also got top reliever Andrew Miller back. The All-Star came in to a rousing ovation in the seventh, and gave up a pair of bloop singles around a strikeout before getting an inning-ending double play.
It was his first appearance since Aug. 21, when Miller’s knee tendinitis flared up during an appearance against Boston and he went on the DL for the second time.
“I thought he looked much, much closer to Andrew than the last time,” said manager Terry Francona, who will closely monitor Miller. “He’s going to need some outings, but that was a really good first step for him.”
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy (sore elbow) threw a side session and could start Sunday’s series finale. He’s been on the disabled list since Aug. 26. Duffy is 8-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 21 starts.
Indians: All-Star OF Michael Brantley still isn’t running and the club still doesn’t have a timetable for his return from an ankle injury. Brantley was having a strong comeback season after playing in just 11 games in 2016 following shoulder surgeries.
Trevor Bauer, tied for the league lead in wins, goes for his 17th and Cleveland’s 23rd in a row against Jason Vargas.