An owner willing to swallow more money, a bit of luck and good timing, coupled with spectacular individual performances over 21 days, are a few key ingredients to a major-league team reeling off 22 consecutive victories.
Cleveland owner Paul Dolan, whose team opened this season with a franchise-record $ 124 million US payroll, picked up the $ 3.7 million left on Jay Bruce’s $ 13 million contract for 2017 on Aug. 9 to acquire the slugging outfielder from the New York Mets to replace the injured Michael Brantley.
On Wednesday, Bruce’s three-run home run off Detroit starter Buck Farmer helped Cleveland extend the streak to an American League-record 21 games. The next night, the 30-year-old’s run-scoring double sealed a 3-2 win over Kansas City and helped the Indians secure a playoff berth by virtue of Houston’s win over the Los Angeles Angels.
Bruce went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Friday night as the Royals overcame 1-0 and 3-1 deficits for a 4-3 victory to halt Cleveland’s streak at 22 games.
With his third team since breaking into the majors with Cincinnati in 2008, Bruce awoke Friday sporting a .253 batting average for Cleveland, but in a much better head space than last July 31 when the Reds traded him to the New York Mets ahead of the non-waiver deadline.
“I lived in six hotels. I never found a home to live in,” Bruce, who went into a 10-for-55 slump after that deal, told reporters shortly after joining Cleveland. “I had a four-month-old son at home [and] my wife was dealing with trying to move us out of Cincinnati by herself.”
With 34 homers and 94 runs batted in, a happy and more relaxed Bruce is in the midst of one of his better offensive seasons and is part of an offence that entered Friday’s game having averaged 6.4 runs during the streak.
Here are some highlights of Cleveland’s outstanding play the past three weeks:
Aug. 24: Rookie night
Cleveland’s established hitters had lit up Boston lefty Chris Sale enough in recent years, but on this night it was first-year players Yandy Diaz (four hits and a homer short of the cycle) and the even lesser-known Giovanny Urshela (career-high four RBI) that joined the fun in a 13-6 dismantling of the visiting Red Sox to begin the win streak.
Sept. 1: Bench strength
With Cleveland and Detroit tied 2-2, newcomer Bruce delivered a pinch-hit triple off Tigers closer Shane Greene, his first three-base hit of the season, with one out in the ninth inning. He scored on Lindor’s single through a drawn-in infield for a 3-2 victory in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
.@JayBruce87‘s first triple of 2017 was quite clutch.
Sept. 1: The blowout
Mike Clevinger tossed six sharp innings to lead Cleveland to a ninth straight win, a 10-0 rout of Detroit, and complete the Indians’ second doubleheader sweep in three days. Catcher Roberto Perez knocked in three runs and extended his hit streak to seven games.
Sept. 3: Extra, extra, read all about Jose
Infielder Jose Ramirez made Cleveland fans forget about his .235 August batting average by equalling a major league record with five extra-base hits, including two home runs, in an 11-1 thrashing of the Detroit Tigers. He became the 13th player with five extra-base hits in a game and first for Cleveland since catcher Kelly Shoppach in 2008.
Sept. 7: King of the Hill
Ace pitcher Corey Kluber struck out 13 in seven innings of three-hit ball and former Toronto Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer as Cleveland became the first major league team to win 15 straight since the 2002 Oakland A’s with an 11-2 throttling of the hometown Chicago White Sox. The Indians had won 14 in a row last season.
Sept. 13: Record-breaking night
Mike Clevinger won his fourth straight start to lead Cleveland to an American League-record 21st consecutive win, matching the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second-longest unbeaten run since 1900. Including Clevinger’s performance, Cleveland starting pitchers improved their record to 19-0 during the streak with a 1.70 earned-run average.
Sept., 14: The walk-off
After Lindor’s clutch double with two strikes and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning tied Kansas City 2-2, Bruce’s double in the 10th gave Cleveland its first walk-off victory of the win streak. The Indians are just four wins away from catching the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 straight, but whose century-old mark includes a tie.