By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- Jay Bruce did all he could to stay on his feet as his teammates doused him in water and baby powder while pulling at his jersey in an historic mob scene on Thursday night. The Royals put up an admirable fight, but the veteran outfielder delivered the knockout blow that kept the Indians' incredible streak going.
The Indians rallied for one run in the ninth inning and pulled off The Streak's first walk-off in the 10th, when Bruce's run-scoring double sealed a 3-2 victory that extended Cleveland's American League-record winning streak to 22 games. Progressive Field quaked like the team hopes it will throughout October, and Bruce walked away drenched and happily bruised.
"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."
Hours later, the Angels lost to the Astros, securing a postseason berth for the Tribe, which trimmed its magic number to win the AL Central crown to three.
The walk-off win inched the Indians one victory closer to the 1916 New York Giants' MLB-record run of 26 wins in a row, and they now have sole possession of the second-longest winning streak in Major League history. The 1935 and 1880 Cubs (who were then often known as the White Stockings) each had streaks of 21 consecutive wins.
"This team has no quit in it whatsoever," Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. "Even in the games that we're up by four or five, you still play every out. I think that goes to show, when you get into situations like we got into tonight, you play until that last out and maybe extend the game and have a chance to win. And that's what happened."
One of the consistent heroes throughout this incredible run for the Tribe has been shortstop Francisco Lindor, and he kept the magic alive in the bottom of the ninth.
"He certainly doesn't seem to shrink from that [moment]," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
With two outs, two strikes and pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez on first, Lindor slashed a pitch from Kelvin Herrera to deep left field, where it scraped the 19-foot wall, eluded the glove of a leaping Alex Gordon and shot back into the outfield to give Gonzalez enough time to score from first.
"We were about to break that streak," Herrera said. "One strike away. It was poor execution right there by me."
Gordon said he had a good chance of making the catch and ending the game.
"With Kelvin pitching, guys are going to be late on the fastball," Gordon said. "I was playing over there a little bit. But, he hit it right in that corner. I think if I play it off the wall, he scores anyway, so I had to go for it. It was just off the tip of my glove. That's the way it goes."
The ballpark shook with each of Gonzalez's steps and the crowd erupted when the game moved into a 2-2 deadlock. Asked about his heroics, Lindor instead praised the work of teammate Tyler Naquin, whose one-out single to left earlier in the inning got the ball rolling on the rally.
"First, let's talk about Naquin's at-bat. Let's do that," Lindor said. "His at-bat was huge. Getting on base and making something happen was huge. I just tried to follow whatever he did. He got on top of the ball and got a base hit. That's exactly what I was trying to do."
After closer Cody Allen kept the Royals in check in the top of the 10th -- helped by an impressive catch at the center-field wall by Naquin to rob Brandon Moss -- the Indians' lineup finished what Lindor started.
Jose Ramirez roped a pitch from Brandon Maurer into right-center and motored around first to pull off a hustle double, his 50th two-bagger of the year. Edwin Encarnacion then drew a crucial walk. That set the stage for Bruce, who shot a pitch from Maurer into the right-field corner, and shot an arm skyward as the on-field party commenced.
"It's safe to say we're in uncharted territory," Bruce said. "You can't draw this stuff up, man. You really can't."
With the win, Cleveland maintained its 13 1/2-game lead over the Twins in the Central, and pulled within 3 1/2 games of the idle Dodgers for best record in the Majors. The Royals, meanwhile, fell to five games behind the Twins in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot.
During this 22-game run, Cleveland's rotation accounted for 19 of the wins and posted a 1.77 ERA. Tomlin did his part, but earned a no-decision against the Royals, allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings. One run scored via a double play off the bat of Mike Moustakas in the second. Another came home on an RBI double from Eric Hosmer on a ball that was nearly caught by left fielder Abraham Almonte in the sixth.
Kansas City did all it could to slow the Indians' offense, which has averaged 6.4 runs over the past 22 victories to help Cleveland post a plus-105 run differential in that span.
Rookie starter Jakob Junis' tried to become a historical footnote as the pitcher who halted Cleveland's AL-record run, limiting the Indians to a Lonnie Chisenhall RBI single in his 5 2/3 innings. It was the Royals' bullpen -- the culprit behind plenty of losses this season -- that could not keep Cleveland down.
"Junis, I was really pleased with his outing, holding that club to one run," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We were just trying to make it hold up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Ramirez's 50-double dash: Ramirez capped off his four-hit night with a furious sprint to pull off a critical double in the 10th. His 7.78-second run marked his second-fasted home-to-second time of the season, according to Statcast™, and he went a long way in setting up the game's final run. During the 22-game streak, Ramirez has hit .423/.474/.944 with eight homers, 11 doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and 17 runs.
"His baserunning on that play," Francona said, "he rounded first under control, took a real good [turn], rounded the bag, and then probably got down to about 85 or 90 [percent]. And then, he saw where the throw was going and gave himself a chance. He's not out of control. It was really good baserunning."
Miller Time again: Prior to Thursday's game, the Indians activated left-handed relief ace Andrew Miller and he fired off 11 pitches to the four batters he faced in the seventh inning. Miller allowed a pair of singles, but escaped with an inning-ending double play to keep Kansas City's lead at one run. Miller is joining an Indians 'pen that posted a 1.26 ERA in the previous 21 wins without him.
"It's a huge lift," Tomlin said. "I think everybody in here has seen and knows how good Andrew Miller is. To have him back and to have him healthy, feeling good, he's another weapon for Tito to use in the back end of the bullpen. He's a really good weapon, at that." More >
Bruce's redemption: The Royals had a huge escape in the eighth inning, when Cleveland loaded the bases with only one out for Bruce and Santana. First, Bruce popped up a pitch from Ryan Buchter into foul ground, where catcher Salvador Perez made the catch. Santana then popped out into foul territory to Hosmer. Bruce was hoping he would get another chance, which arrived in extras.
"God, I was so mad, man," Bruce said. "I want the at-bat. I want the chance, I want the opportunity. And I think I can speak for everyone else in that room, they feel the exact same way as me. And I think that's why we've been so successful."
"For a second, when I hit it, I was like, 'Oh no, I went the other way. I hit it to the wrong guy.' 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." -- Lindor, on his game-tying double
"He brings it every day. He really does. He is the energy you want to have when you play the game. And there are certain guys who have that. He doesn't care who's on the mound. He doesn't care who we're playing." -- Bruce, on Ramirez
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Ramirez joined Albert Belle (1995) and Tris Speaker (1923) as the only hitters in Indians history to compile at least 50 doubles and 80 extra-base hits in a single season.
Cleveland's 15-0 mark to start September ties the MLB record for most wins to open any calendar month. The 1991 Twins (September) and 1977 Royals (September) also had 15-0 starts to a month.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
After drawing a one-out walk in the sixth, Ramirez bolted for second and appeared to pull off a stolen base. Second baseman Whit Merrifield applied the tag on Ramirez's left hand and held his glove on as the runner came off the base. Ramirez was called out and Cleveland challenged the play. Interference on such plays is not reviewable, though, so the replay review confirmed the out call, eliciting a chorus of boos from the home crowd. The Royals went on to escape the inning unscathed.
"It's a judgement call," Francona said. "I knew he came off the bag. I went and looked at it. I just told [the umpires], I said, 'I want you to go look at that and then tell me you don't think he swiped him off the bag.' I knew they weren't going to change it, I just wanted them to have to go look at it."
Chisenhall left the game in the fifth inning as a precaution due to tightness in his right calf, according to the Indians. A right calf strain kept Chisenhall on the disabled list from July 11-Aug. 31 earlier this season. In the second inning, Chisenhall hustled to make a nice sliding catch in left field. He also tried to unsuccessfully turn his RBI single into a double in the third.
"We'll wait and see how he shows up tomorrow," Francona said. "He didn't want to come out, and then we weren't going to take him out. Then, when he sat for a little bit, he got a little stiff, so we're like, 'We're not going to mess with this.'"
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Left-hander Jason Vargas (15-10, 4.15 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals in the second game of the series on Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Vargas got his career-high 15th win on Sunday in an 11-3 triumph over the Twins, as he went five innings and gave up just one run.
Indians: Right-hander Trevor Bauer (16-8, 4.33 ERA) will get the nod for the Tribe in Friday's 7:10 p.m. ET matchup with the Royals at Progressive Field. Bauer has not taken a loss since July 16. In 10 starts and one relief appearance since, Bauer has gone 9-0 with a 2.51 ERA and 72 strikeouts against 19 walks in 64 2/3 innings.