21 WINS IN A ROW

Cleve­land In­di­ans set AL record

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - FOL­LOW MLB COLUMNIST BOB NIGHTENGALE @BNight­en­gale for com­men­tary and in­sight from the ball­park.

They have be­come Amer­ica’s team, those lov­able Cleve­land In­di­ans.

They win 21 games in a row, the most by any team in Amer­i­can League his­tory, and we want the streak to keep go­ing.

We see those empty seats at Ja­cobs Field, and we want them all filled.

We lis­ten to man­ager Terry Fran­cona’s self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mor, the front of­fice’s wit, the un­bri­dled pas­sion of Francisco Lin­dor, and don’t want them to stop talk­ing.

It’s Cleve­land baby, the epi- cen­ter of base­ball.

Even con­tro­versy.

Who else but the In­di­ans could win 21 games in a row, knock­ing off the Detroit Tigers 5-3, only to be em­broiled in con­tro­versy whether or not they have tied a ma­jor league record.

The 1935 Chicago Cubs are the only other team in base­ball his­tory that have ever won 21 con­sec­u­tive games, but Elias Sports Bu­reau is now telling us that the 1916 New York Gi­ants re­ally have the record. They did win 26 games in a row, but there was a tie af­ter their 12th con­sec­u­tive win.

No of­fense to Elias, but that’s not the long­est win­ning streak. It’s the long­est un­beaten streak. Don’t dare try to take any piece of joy away from the In­di­ans.

“I think they’re en­joy­ing them­selves,” Fran­cona said. “They

should. It’s pretty spe­cial.” Take a bow, Cleve­land.

This is your time.

If peo­ple want to chas­tise you for not sell­ing out any games dur­ing the streak, re­mind ev­ery­one that this is a blue-col­lar city. School is in ses­sion. Be­sides, you had a stun­ning walkup crowd of nearly 10,000 fans Wed­nes­day for an af­ter­noon game on a school day, draw­ing 29,346.

Enough of the jokes, even about the Cleve­land Browns.

Sa­vor the moment, know­ing this likely will never hap­pen again in your life­time.

What the In­di­ans are do­ing th­ese days is pre­pos­ter­ous. They have gone three en­tire weeks with­out los­ing a game. They’ve won as many games dur­ing this streak as the Browns have won since Nov. 20, 2011.

Th­ese guys have es­tab­lished them­selves as best team in base­ball and need only Oc­to­ber to prove it, fi­nally end­ing their 69year drought.

Sure, no one has them splashed on their mag­a­zine cover declar­ing them the best team in base­ball his­tory.

There are no movies in the works.

There might not even be book deals in the mak­ing.

It makes no dif­fer­ence.

The In­di­ans are as lik­able as any team in base­ball, with a joy­ous close-knit club­house, a lov­able man­ager and a shrewd front of­fice that isn’t afraid to speak from their heart.

It was ear­lier this year when Cleve­land Pres­i­dent Chris An­tonetti was asked how long it took for him to get over los­ing Game 7 — and a 3-1 World Se­ries lead — to the Chicago Cubs.

An­tonetti looked me into the eyes and, with­out a smile or even a smirk, paused and blurted out the re­sponse from the heart.

“I’ll let you know,” An­tonetti said, “when I do.”

We can sym­pa­thize and root for them rather than the big-mar­ket be­he­moths that will dot the play­off land­scape.

Th­ese In­di­ans re­mind us about the beauty of sports, where you can ex­tract the pos­si­ble from im­pos­si­ble and turn the im­prob­a­ble into prob­a­ble.

Amer­ica’s Team, right?

“It feels that way, from my van­tage point,” In­di­ans out­fielder Jay Bruce, who hit a three-run homer Wed­nes­day, told USA TO­DAY Sports. “I don’t have the pulse of it all, but this fan base here is mak­ing it feel like Oc­to­ber. It’s easy to come to the park. Peo­ple are thank­ing us.

“We are just do­ing what we can to play good ball and per­form for an awe­some group of peo­ple who fol­low us.”

You know you’re liv­ing large when Ohio’s most fa­mous res­i­dent, LeBron James, takes time to shoot a con­grat­u­la­tory video about the In­di­ans’ streak.

There might be some breaks that have come along the way, but there have been no flukes in this win­ning streak. Just ab­so­lute dom­i­na­tion. The In­di­ans aren’t just win­ning, but they’re blud­geon­ing teams, outscor­ing them 139-35 dur­ing the streak.

They have played 189 in­nings dur­ing this streak and trailed af­ter only four of them. They’ve won 14 of their games by five or more runs. They’ve ac­tu­ally hit more home runs, 41, than runs given up by the pitch­ing staff.

This is a ro­ta­tion that has gone 19-0 with a 1.70 ERA dur­ing the streak, with the staff throw­ing seven shutouts. Their 19 shutouts this year are five more than any team in base­ball.

The In­di­ans have run away with the AL Cen­tral, open­ing a 14game lead over the Min­nesota Twins, leav­ing them with a magic num­ber of just four to clinch their sec­ond di­vi­sion ti­tle.

Logic tells us the streak can’t go on for­ever, but our heart wants more.

You know, a World Se­ries pa­rade.

This time in down­town Cleve­land.

DAVID RICHARD, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Joy­ful gath­er­ings have been abun­dant for the In­di­ans since they launched a 21-game win­ning streak.

DAVID RICHARD, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Fans cel­e­brate af­ter Cleve­land beat Detroit to set the Amer­i­can League record with 21 con­sec­u­tive wins.

Bob Nightengale

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