By Andrew Kahn
The disparity between the impressiveness of the Cleveland Indians’ win streak and how impressed people are by it is, well, impressive. Not to press the point, but it just doesn’t impress upon people.
Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t heard anyone say, “21 straight wins—so what?” But winning streaks are neither as revered nor as familiar as certain individual records. While we can debate the “true” single-season home run record, most fans know Bonds hit 73, McGwire 70, Maris 61. We know Cy Young is the only pitcher with 500 wins (511, to be exact) and Nolan Ryan threw the most (seven) no-hitters.
Before this week, how many of us knew the longest win streak in MLB history? It is 26, set by the 1916 New York Giants, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Someone might try because there is a tie in the middle of that streak. In reality, rain halted a 1-1 game after nine innings. Back then, games were not “suspended” like they are today and later picked up at the point of stoppage. Instead, the two teams started from the beginning, usually the next day (as was the case with the Giants). The “tie” did not count towards the standings (but for some bizarre reason, the players’ stats did count).
To recap the Giants’ streak: They won 12 straight games, were tied in a game that couldn’t be finished because lights and tarps weren’t the norm in baseball, re-played that game the next day and won, and won 13 more in a row after that. The total: 26 straight victories. Baseball scheduling was very different back then—every game during the streak was played at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home field, and they won seven double-headers—but that’s the record.
In defeating the Detroit Tigers Wednesday afternoon, the Indians set the American League record for consecutive wins and tied the second-longest streak ever (the 1935 Chicago Cubs also won 21 straight). Cleveland’s win streak can now buy a beer at the ballpark. The streak matches Bob Lemon’s retired number at Progressive Field. No current Indian wears 21, but Jason Kipnis wears 22. He is one of several talented players who have sat out during the streak. He landed on the disabled the day before the streak began on August 24th. Michael Brantley (hey, he wears 23) and Andrew Miller (24!) have also been hurt throughout the run.
Even without a full complement of players, what Cleveland has done is remarkable. In baseball, winning 60 percent of your games is a tremendous accomplishment. As the saying goes, momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, and Cleveland has used seven during the streak. They’ve shutout the opposition seven times and experienced far more blowouts than close games, outscoring opponents 139-35.
And so, for three weeks, Cleveland’s number in the loss column has held steady at 56. That, of course, matches Joe DiMaggio’s record hit streak. That figure is etched in our brains, but winning streaks don’t seem to stick. I’m a Mets fan, and I had to look up their longest streak, remembering it’s 11, a mark they reached just two years ago.
With teams, we think of championships. This run will be a cherished memory for Cleveland fans, but somewhat bittersweet if they are bounced in the first round of the playoffs like the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who won 20 straight. The 1916 Giants finished fourth in the eight-team National League and therefore didn’t qualify for the World Series. The ’35 Cubs went 101-53 but lost in the World Series.
Meanwhile, the iconic 1927 Yankees never put together a double-digit win streak (their franchise record is 19, set in ’47). Here are other historically great teams’ longest streaks: 1907 Cubs (7), 1909 Pirates (16), 1929 Athletics (11), 1970 Orioles (11), 1975 Reds (10).
In baseball, the players who set records don’t need rings to be remembered. The teams without trophies are often forgotten.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn