CLEVELAND -- Folks in Cleveland know all about the streaking Indians.
On Sunday night, the rest of the nation got to see what all the hubbub is about.
With ESPN picking up Cleveland’s game for its nationally-televised “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast, the Indians continued their torrid stretch, extending their franchise-record win streak to 18 games with a 3-2 victory over Baltimore.
The win coupled with Houston’s loss moved the Indians a game ahead of the Astros for the American League’s best record.
“We’re playing the type of baseball that we knew we could in the beginning,” said Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, who notched his team-leading 16th win to tie Cy Young candidate Chris Sale for the most in the AL. “We know we have the talent to do stuff like this and to win a high percentage of our games. We’re playing with better intensity, we’re playing with the right focus, the right energy level and it’s been a lot of fun.
“To win 18 in a row you can never say it’s completely dictated by how you play. There’s some luck involved for sure. When you look at the last two months, that’s more or less what we know we can do.”
“18 in a row is hard to fathom,” Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson said. “There are so many good starting pitchers and good teams in the league, it’s hard to think you could win 18 in a row. But when you’ve got that rotation, that bullpen, and that offense, it’s a pretty complete team, so I can see how they’ve done it.”
The Indians entered the night having outscored their opponents 118-30 over 17 straight wins, but they didn’t generate much offense in the series finale, managing only five hits -- two over the first five innings.
But with Bauer on the mound, it didn’t matter.
The right-hander maintained his sparkling string of success, winning his ninth straight decision after allowing two runs on seven hits without a walk and seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
“Early on, it was a lot of deep counts,” manager Terry Francona said. “And he managed to wiggle out of those. He didn’t even walk anybody, but it was just so many deep counts and then he settled down.
“We’ve seen Trevor long enough, once he gets a couple strikeouts, he sort of tends to kind of settle down and start to pitch his game. But until he misses some bats, it kind of bothers him a little bit. It kind of messes with his confidence. Once he had a couple strikeouts, then he settled down and started getting into a groove.”
In 12 appearances (11 starts) since the All-Star break, Bauer has posted a 9-1 record and 3.03 ERA.
“I guess I’m just more comfortable with what I’m able to do on the mound, what pitches I’m able to execute and understanding game situations,” he said. “Just little things like that. It’s more experiential and it’s more subconscious, I guess than consciously trying to learn stuff.”
As they have done in 17 of their 18 straight victories, the Indians scored first.
Francisco Lindor opened the bottom of the first with a double, then advanced to third on a bloop single from Lonnie Chisenhall. Jose Ramirez’s grounder to second scored the first run of the game.
During the streak, Cleveland has outscored its opponent 58-12 within the first three innings and has trailed after only four of 162 innings.
Baltimore tied the game 1-1 on Jonathan Schoop’s one-out single in the sixth, but the Indians responded quickly in the bottom of the inning, with Roberto Perez and Lindor leading off with back-to-back home runs.
“We weren’t doing much,” Francona said. “Berto got what looked like a cutter up and then Frankie hit one really good and then we hung on for dear life.”
“It’s huge. It’s huge,” Lindor said. “It gives Bauer a chance to go out there again and it gets the crowd on their feet and it gives us the momentum. That’s what it’s all about. When you’re trying to win games, you want the momentum somehow, whether it’s a good play or scoring a couple runs. And that was it. That was the turning point of the game.”
Cody Allen retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out the first two batters, to earn his 26th save.
It wasn’t all good news for the Indians, with center fielder Bradley Zimmer leaving the game in the seventh inning after Orioles first baseman Chris Davis stepped on his left hand when he dove head-first into the bag on an unsuccessful attempt to beat out an infield single.
Francona said Zimmer sustained a broken bone in the hand and will be examined today by hand specialist, Dr. Thomas Graham.
Cleveland’s win streak is the second-longest of the modern era (since 1961) behind Oakland’s 20 straight wins in 2002.