Joe Posnanski

Tribe conjures magic for first time during streak

Tribe conjures magic for first time during streak

This crazy winning streak had everything but magic. You don't need magic when you are dominating teams night after night, and that's what the Indians did for 21 consecutive games. They have rarely trailed. They pitched like a club full of guys thinking they were Greg Maddux. They hit more homers than their opponents have scored runs. No magic required.

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Thursday night was different, though. The result wasn't different -- Cleveland won its 22nd game in a row (a 3-2 thriller against Kansas City), the longest winning streak in 100 years -- but everything else was.

The Indians played a Royals club still clinging to fading American League Wild Card hopes, and the Tribe looked like … well, for the first time in almost a month, it looked like a regular team. Regular teams are still good teams. They just don't get a hit every time there are runners in scoring position, and they don't hit two homers every game, and they don't throw shutouts two or three times per week.

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Regular teams find often find themselves in the position that the Indians faced in the eighth inning, down a run because of a fluky popup double. Cleveland loaded the bases with one out and seemed sure to tie the game, sure to take the lead … and Jay Bruce, on the first pitch, hit a popup into foul territory. He raged at himself.

Then Carlos Santana did exactly the same thing.

And suddenly, for the first time in this impossible three-week odyssey, the Indians looked like they were going to lose.

For the first time, Cleveland needed magic.

When Bruce and Santana popped out, you could feel the energy drain -- not only from Progressive Field, but from baseball fans all over the country. This streak had been so crazy, so wonderful, and it looked over. When you watch enough games, you begin to feel the rhythms of it. This just wasn't the Tribe's night. And who could be surprised? Baseball is a game of balance, streaks and slumps, good breaks and bad, and time had run out on the Indians, which was OK. It was a wild ride. You sensed the fans in Cleveland preparing to give the Indians a rousing, "Thanks for the memories" kind of ovation.

Then with one out, Tyler Naquin -- a 26-year-old outfielder who showed promise last year but spent this year driving back and forth between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus -- shot a ground-ball single between short and third. Well, that was something. After a fielder's choice, up came Francisco Lindor to face Royals closer Kelvin Herrera.

That was the right guy, at least. Lindor is magical. We knew that already -- the defense, the smile, the shocking power (he is the first Indians shortstop to hit 30 homers in a season). Even so, it seemed too much to ask for him to do something miraculous. Lindor was down to his last strike. Herrera threw a 96-mph fastball up and just on the outside corner, perhaps a even milimeter or two off the outside corner. Every batters chart shows that Lindor can't do anything with that pitch. But he did.

Lindor sliced a long fly ball to left field. Kansas City's Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon chased after it, and it seemed like he would catch it. He leaped at the wall, and the ball sailed just a couple of inches out of his reach. It banged off the wall. The tying run scored.

Magic. Bedlam.

This was the moment of the streak, and maybe the streak needed a moment. Cleveland had played such sublime baseball that winning 21 in a row felt oddly easy. Here, finally, hearts were pumping.

The 10th inning provided another special moment, or two, though by then, everyone could see them coming. The incomparable Jose Ramirez led off the inning with an incomparable Jose Ramirez play. He shot a hit into right-center field, and as he was running to first, he noticed that Kansas City's Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Lorenzo Cain was not charging the ball with much gusto. So Ramirez took off for second, because that's how he plays baseball.

Smart play? Dumb play? Such questions are answered by results; Ramirez slid into second safely, just ahead of an uninspired throw. You could imagine Royals fans, despondent as they were, nodding in recognition; this was the same sort of aggressive sorcery that helped guide them to back-to-back AL pennants and a World Series championship.

After an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion, the game ended exactly as magical games should: with a chance at redemption for Bruce. He had misplayed a fly ball early in the game and popped out with the bases loaded two innings prior. Bruce promptly rifled Brandon Maurer's down-the-middle fastball down the right-field line. Ramirez scored the winning run. Cleveland fans lost their minds. Baseball fans lost their minds. This was the 22nd win in a row. Odds are we'll never see it again.

Bruce's walk-off RBI double

And in the intoxicating minutes after the game, the question that kept coming up is: How much longer can this go on?

"We think we're going to win tomorrow," Bruce said after being mobbed by his teammates.

Of course they do. How do you beat a team that pitches better, hits better and, now, has destiny in their corner?

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.