CLEVELAND (AP) — Francisco Lindor skipped through the doorway and into the Indians’ clubhouse, where the pulsating music was at an ear-splitting level.
As many of his teammates dressed quickly with another game just 14 hours away, Cleveland’s star shortstop worked the room, exchanging high-fives with anyone he could find.
It’s almost unthinkable for a team to win 20 straight games.
Usually, that only happens in the movies.
“Moneyball” has its sequel.
Following a familiar script of scoring first, playing strong defense and riding dominant pitching, the Indians extended their winning streak to 20 and matched the AL mark held by the 2002 Oakland Athletics, beating the Detroit Tigers 2-0 on Tuesday night.
Cleveland’s streak, which began Aug. 24 in Boston, is tied for the majors’ second-longest in 82 years — and the Indians show no signs of stopping.
“It’s special,” Lindor said. “As a kid, you dream about playing in front of a lot of fans and the crowd goes nuts. That’s what you want. This is for them. It’s not for us.”
Lindor homered leading off the first and Corey Kluber (16-4) strengthened his Cy Young Award case with a five-hitter as Cleveland joined the 2002 A’s, 1935 Chicago Cubs (21) and 1916 New York Giants (26) as the only teams since 1900 to win at least 20 in a row.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Kluber said. “To go almost three weeks without losing a game is not something that you ever really expect.”
The Progressive Field crowd of 24,654, hanging on each pitch as though it was October, stood and roared when Kluber sprinted to the mound for the ninth.
Second baseman Jose Ramirez made a sensational diving stop in short right field to throw out Ian Kinsler for the second out, and after allowing a double to Alex Presley, Kluber sealed win No. 20 — and Cleveland’s seventh shutout during the streak — by getting Miguel Cabrera on an easy grounder to third.
Fireworks exploded overhead and the Indians lined up single-file the same way they have for weeks to celebrate yet another win in this unlikely streak.
“For sure, it’s something special,” Lindor said. “It’s going to be there forever.”
Although they insist they’re not focused on the streak, the Indians are playing as though they don’t want it to end.
They’re now within reach of the Giants’ revered 101-year-old mark, which includes a tie that interrupted 12- and 14-game unbeaten runs. However, the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistical custodian for Major League Baseball, has always regarded the Giants’ stretch as the gold standard because tie games were replayed from the start back then.
Cleveland can equal the Cubs’ 21-game run Wednesday afternoon.
The Indians and A’s, whose unexpected run to the postseason 15 years ago was re-told in the film starring Brad Pitt, don’t have much in common besides their 20-game streaks.
Oakland was an overachieving squad loaded with pitching and a roster comprised of low-salaried players assembled by a front office that forced baseball to rethink how it evaluated talent. The Indians, on the other hand, have spent millions to get better, and have been expected to win — big.
Maybe not at this amazing rate, but after getting to Game 7 in 2016, Cleveland was a favorite to return to the World Series.
Closing in on their second consecutive AL Central title, the Indians figured to keep things going with Kluber on the mound, and the right-hander continued his own superb stretch.
Kluber improved to 8-1 in his last nine starts and lowered his ERA to an AL-best 2.45 with his third shutout of the season and fifth complete game. He allowed a leadoff double in the first to Kinsler, but stranded him at third by striking out Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos to end the inning.
Cabrera came in batting .434 against Kluber but went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
The Tigers have been beaten six times by the Indians during their streak.
“In a way, it doesn’t surprise me,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said of Cleveland’s three-week dominance. “Because if any team could do it, it’s them. They’ve got it all.”
While understanding the fascination with his team’s roll, Indians manager Terry Francona has been downplaying the streak so as not to make it a distraction. He chooses his words carefully whether he’s talking to reporters, family or friends.
“I got one really good buddy, one of my best friends, but he’s notoriously bad luck,” Francona said. “Everybody kind of refers to him as like the gray cloud. He knows who he is and you talk about superstitions, I will not talk to him. He is a text only.
“Oh, yeah. He knows. It cost me one job, he’s not getting in the way again.”
Lindor and Ramirez have carried the Indians throughout the streak.
Not only is Cleveland’s double-play combination making jaw-dropping plays in the field, they’re the team’s hottest hitters. Lindor is batting .359 (28 for 78) with nine homers and 19 RBIs while Ramirez is hitting .391 (25 for 64) with eight homers and 14 RBIs.
Indians All-Star LHP Andrew Miller could be pitching again as early as Thursday. He’s been on the disabled list with knee tendinitis, but after a successful simulated game Monday, one of the game’s top relievers is ready to go. Francona said the team is weighing whether to activate Miller for the series opener against Kansas City or have him pitch another simulated game.
Indians: 2B Jason Kipnis is pushing to return Sunday after being sidelined since Aug. 23 with a strained hamstring. Kipnis will play center field as the club needs to add outfield depth after rookie Bradley Zimmer broke his left hand. Zimmer’s fracture required a plate and nine screws in surgery. He will be re-examined in two weeks, but doctors have estimated he’ll need two months to recover.
Tigers: DH Victor Martinez underwent a heart ablation to correct an irregular heartbeat that caused the five-time All-Star to be hospitalized last month. The 38-year-old is expected to return next season. …. RHP Michael Fulmer had ulnar nerve transposition surgery in Pensacola, Florida. Last season’s AL Rookie of the Year is expected to be ready for spring training.
The Indians will go for No. 21 in a row Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. with RHP Mike Clevinger, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past three outings, starting against Tigers RHP Buck Farmer.
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