By Jordan Bastian and William Kosileski
CLEVELAND -- The Indians are no longer just chasing history. With 18 consecutive wins in the books, Cleveland now has its sights on the best record in baseball.
On Sunday night, the Indians extended their franchise-record winning streak with a 3-2 win over the Orioles, courtesy of homers from Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez and a solid start by Trevor Bauer. With the victory, Cleveland became only the fifth team on record to win at least 18 consecutive games.
"It's cool that we're winning a lot of games in a row," Lindor said. "It's given us a huge advantage, but we're not focusing on that. We're focused on what's going to happen tomorrow. And then, once we're done with tomorrow, we focus on the next day. Everybody's thinking about what we have in front of us.
"Yeah, we can't wait for the playoffs, if we make it. But, we've got to respect our opponents."
The benefit of the long winning streak for the Indians (87-56) has been overtaking the Astros (86-57) for the best record in the American League.In the event of a tie, Cleveland owns a tiebreaker over Houston. The AL Central-leading Tribe is also now just five games back of the Dodgers (92-51) for baseball's best ledger, which would earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Besides trying to run down the Dodgers, Cleveland is hunting an historic winning streak. The 1935 Cubs hold the record with 21 consecutive wins, followed by the 2002 A's (20) and the 1947 Yankees (19). The Indians have tied the 1953 Yankees for the fourth-longest streak of wins in consecutive games. The Elias Sports Bureau credits the 1916 Giants with a 26-game winning streak, though that run includes a tie within a 27-game stretch.
"I bet you every team that you're on, you think you're going to win until you don't," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's the whole idea. I think maybe this thing gets more carried away with other people, as opposed to us. We just play the game. You start thinking about last week, it doesn't help anything. We try to learn and move on as quickly as we can."
Cleveland's streak has been powered by pitching -- the rotation has turned in a 1.94 ERA in 111 1/3 innings in the 18 victories -- and Bauer kept it going against Baltimore. Over 6 1/3 frames, the right-hander struck out seven, walked none and limited the Orioles to two runs (one via Chris Davis' 24th homer of the season).
Perez and Lindor provided some fireworks with back-to-back homers off O's starter Jeremy Hellickson in the sixth inning, giving the Indians the lead for good. Hellickson, who had retired 15 straight batters before those homers, was charged with three runs on four hits in six innings.
"Yeah, he pitched real well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Hellickson. "He gave us a great chance to win. I can't fault anything [he did]. That's a good offensive team. They just pitched better than we did the whole series."
With the loss, the Orioles remained three games behind the Twins in the race for the AL's second Wild Card spot. The Indians, on the other hand, lowered their magic number to seven to clinch their second straight division title. Cleveland now boasts a 13-game lead on Minnesota in the Central standings.
"Last year," Bauer said, "there was a lot of like proving to ourselves and proving to other people that we're really good. This year, we know we're really good. Earlier in the year when we struggled a little bit, no one really panicked. It's almost like we played with a little bit of a lack of intensity, because we know how good we can be.
"And as the season's turned over to the second half, and we started bringing that intensity more regularly, we've been playing a lot better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Momentum shift: The Orioles struck for a run in the sixth to pull the game into a 1-1 deadlock, but that did not last for long. Perez and Lindor opened the home half of the frame with consecutive shots off Hellickson to inject a heavy dose of energy into the home crowd. Lindor's shot was particularly impressive, rocketing off his bat at 109 mph, per Statcast™. That represented the hardest-hit home run of the season for the shortstop. Lindor (29 homers this season) also did so while borrowing a bat belonging to teammate Abraham Almonte. More >
"It's huge," Lindor said of the homers. "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."
Striking first: Throughout the Indians' incredible winning streak, scoring first has been a theme. That continued on Sunday, when Lindor doubled, moved to third on a single by Lonnie Chisenhall and scored on a Jose Ramirez groundout in the first inning. It marked the 17th time in the past 18 games that Cleveland scored first. The Indians have also outscored their opponents, 58-12, during the first three innings over the past 18 games.
"Everything is kind of just flowing right now. There's no disruptions to the flow. There's no thinking about something external: 'Aw, man, let's scoreboard watch,' or, 'Let's win this game,' or anything like that. Everything is just flowing. When you look at it like performance, people talk about being in the zone and that's what it is. It's a lack of conscious thought about anything. Just flowing with the game and I feel like that's what we're doing as a team right now." -- Bauer, on the winning streak
"At this point, we need to win every game. There's a lot stacked against us and we know that. We are still in the fight and we need to win every game." -- Davis, on the Orioles' postseason chances
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Davis' seventh-inning solo homer to the Home Run Porch in left was his 223rd career home run with the Orioles. That put him in a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for sixth on Baltimore's all-time home run list.
During Cleveland's 18-game winning streak, the team has posted a plus-89 run differential, outscoring its opponents, 121-32. The Indians have only trailed in four of the 162 innings in those 18 games.
Lindor's 29 home runs are the most by an Indians player at age 23 or younger since Manny Ramirez hit 31 in his age-23 campaign in 1995.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With one out in the sixth, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado hit a liner over Jay Bruce's head in right field. Bruce played the ricochet off the wall and made a strong throw to second in attempt to nab Machado, who slid into the base head-first to avoid Lindor's tag. Machado was called safe, but the Indians challenged the ruling. Following a replay review lasting two minutes and one second, the call on the field was confirmed.
ZIMMER EXITS WITH INJURY
Indians rookie Bradley Zimmer left Sunday's game in the seventh inning after a hard dive into first base while attempting to beat out an infield grounder. Zimmer chopped a pitch from reliever Richard Bleier to Davis, who got a tag on Zimmer as the runner dove toward the bag. Zimmer was shaken up on the play and exited with a fractured bone (fourth metacarpal) in his left hand. Zimmer will be examined by Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist, this week. Francona said more information may be available on Monday. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: The O's will head to Toronto to open a three-game set with the Blue Jays beginning with Monday's 7:07 p.m. ET tilt at the Rogers Centre. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (5-9, 6.80 ERA) will take the mound. His last start came on Aug. 30 against the Mariners, when he was credited no-decision after allowing six runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Indians:Carlos Carrasco (14-6, 3.53 ERA) will take the ball for the Tribe in the opener of a three-game set against the Tigers at 7:10 p.m. ET on Monday at Progressive Field. Carrasco has a 1.90 ERA over his past six starts, but has been especially sharp of late. In his last three outings, the righty has 25 strikeouts, no walks and a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings..