By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- Before the Indians captured the American League Central title a year ago, and emerged as the division leader again this season, the Royals wore the crown. Kansas City has long been a thorn in the Tribe's side, so it seemed fitting that it would be the Royals to finally end The Streak.
With a 4-3 victory on Friday night, the Royals halted the Indians' AL-record run of 22 consecutive wins. Lorenzo Cain, Brandon Moss and Alcides Escobar accounted for enough offense and Mike Minor recorded his first career save to hand the Tribe its first loss since Aug. 23. It also ended the Indians' pursuit of the 1916 New York Giants' MLB-record 26-game winning streak.
"We're all competitors," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You don't want to lose, streak or no streak. What they did over there is amazing. Utterly amazing. Twenty-two? It's almost unfathomable to me that you can go three weeks without losing. Tremendous accomplishment."
Following the final out, the crowd rose to its feet and offered the Indians a rousing standing ovation. Manager Terry Francona emerged from the dugout, alongside the entire coaching staff and players, clapped his hands, waved, and then doffed his cap to the fans.
"They've been so supportive," Francona said. "It's just been pretty incredible how they've reacted and we just wanted to show our appreciation, because we don't take it for granted."
Despite the loss, the Indians' magic number to clinch the division is two following the Twins' 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday. Cleveland dropped 4 1/2 back of the Dodgers for baseball's best record. As for the Royals, they moved to four games behind Minnesota in the race for the AL's second Wild Card.
The Indians have insisted throughout this incredible and dominant stretch that they were not focusing on the streak. Well, they can now concentrate again on the bigger picture, which includes wrapping up a second straight AL Central championship and trying to return to and win the World Series.
Asked about the streak being over, Francona said that is not how he views his team's situation.
"I don't think anything is over," Francona said. "To me, it's just kind of a jumping off point. Where do we go from here? It's up. Common sense said you're going to lose a game. It was a lot of fun. We'll show up tomorrow, and my guess is we'll have real good energy and see if we can beat the Royals.
Francona then smiled.
"Maybe less national media here," he said. "That's probably the only difference. You can go and get some clean underwear, and we'll see if we can beat the Royals. How's that?"
Facing Indians starter Trevor Bauer (four runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings), Escobar launched a one-out homer in the second and Moss added one of his own in the fourth. The Indians scored first for the 20th time in the past 23 games, but Kansas City kept answering. Escobar's shot tied the game at 1 run apiece and Eric Hosmer's RBI single in the fifth drew things even at 3.
Cain, who finished with three hits and a walk, put the Royals ahead for good with an RBI single in the sixth.
Royals left-hander Mike Minor got his first career save, striking out the side in the ninth, including Francisco Lindor, who for the second straight night came up with the tying run on first and two out.
"I was amped up, for sure," Minor said. "It was different. Different situation. But I just felt like every pitch meant something. It does every time, but the crowd is into it. It's the bottom of the ninth. I just tried to make every pitch count."
The Indians' lineup, which posted a .937 OPS in the previous 22 wins, received a 2-run home run from Jose Ramirez in the third for a 3-1 lead. As Ramirez tore around the bases, fans erupted in chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" The blast was his 27th of the season and ninth in the past 23 games. In that span, Ramirez helped power the offense with a .413/.451/.947 slash line.
Royals lefty Jason Vargas (five innings) was on the hook for that homer and was charged with all three runs. Kansas City's lineup picked up Vargas, and the bullpen came up big when Cleveland threatened throughout the game. This time, though, The Streak would not live on.
"The magnitude of it really didn't hit me until last night's game," Bauer said. "The intensity ratcheted up really high. So tonight, it was a battle all the way through. Shoot, up to last night, everything was pretty smooth sailing. That was a [heck] of a run."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cain was able: After the Royals chased Bauer in the sixth, they kept their rally going against sidearmer Joe Smith. With two out, Whit Merrifield singled to right to bring Cain to the plate. The outfielder kept his strong night going by ripping a pitch up the middle, just past Smith and beyond the reach of a diving Lindor. Alex Gordon scored from second on the play to give the Royals a 4-3 lead.
"Some days you swing the bat well, some days you don't," Cain said. "Tonight was a good night. So you try to improve off the night."
Huge double play: With the Royals' bullpen depleted, Yost turned to right-hander Trevor Cahill in the seventh. Cahill promptly walked two of the first three hitters he faced. But with pinch-runner Tyler Naquin on second base representing the potential tying run, and Lindor on first, Cahill got Austin Jackson to bounce a two-seam fastball into the ground right at shortstop Escobar, who started a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
"Cahill, what a job he did," Yost said. "He was our most rested guy. He's a veteran guy, you know he's just going to come in and attack. We felt good about bringing him in there."
"The [streak], it was fun. I still can't believe we lost. It was going to end at some point. Now, all we've got to do is get everybody in good shape for October and win 11 games." -- Smith
"He deserves it. He deserves it. He's right up there in the conversation for the best player in this league this year. There's still a lot of time left for him to help his case, and I have no doubt that he will." -- Indians outfielder Jay Bruce, on the MVP chants for Ramirez
"Twenty-two-game win streaks aren't kind to me. It's the second one I've blown. In 2010 at UCLA, we started off 22-0 and I was the losing pitcher in that game, too. Have someone else pitch for 23." -- Bauer
BRUCE'S FOUR-STAR CATCH
Leading off the eighth inning against Indians reliever Dan Otero, Escobar chased an 0-2 slider low and away and flared it out to right field. Bruce came sprinting in on the ball before making an all-out sliding catch to rob Escobar of a hit. According to Statcast™, Bruce's play had a catch probability of 41 percent, as he had to cover 72 feet in 4.3 seconds, making it a four-star catch.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Jason Hammel (8-11, 4.91 ERA) will start the third game of this series against the Indians on Saturday at 3:10 p.m. CT. Hammel had his shortest outing since April on Monday against the White Sox, going 3 1/3 innings while giving up five runs in an 11-3 loss.
Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco will take the mound at 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday against the Royals at Progressive Field. In his last four starts, Carrasco is 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and 34 strikeouts against one walk. In 29 innings across those outings, he has held opposing hitters to a .210/.224/.267 slash line.