CLEVELAND -- The Indians reached a level of dominance that no other team in the divisional era has experienced before.
With a 7-0 victory over the Tigers on Thursday night, Cleveland walked away with an 18-1 season record against Detroit, the most wins any team has racked up against one opponent since 1969. But more importantly for the Indians, they moved into a tie with the Rays for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"I guess I'm kind of glad they're leaving because of the law of averages," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the Tigers. "I don't have a good explanation. The only one I have is that I know that we don't look back, because if you do, I don't think things like that happen. You just kind of stay in the moment, but it's hard to explain because there's been a lot of close games."
The Indians spent 16 days trying to work their way back into Wild Card contention after losing the second seat on Sept. 3. The club then suffered a gut punch over the weekend, dropping two of three games to the first-place Twins. But a three-game set against the Tigers is just what the doctor ordered to wake up the offense and help boost Cleveland up in the standings.
"We won a game, but we've got to win every game right now," Indians starter Mike Clevinger said. "So that's the way we're looking at it going into each day."
The Indians have taken 38 of their past 45 meetings with Detroit, including the last 17. The win streak ties a franchise record for the longest against a single opponent, matching the 1954 Indians' run against the Orioles. This season, the Indians outscored the Tigers, 116-38.
"It bothers us. A lot," Tigers reliever Drew VerHagen said. "I don't think it's to the point where we're tense because we feel like we want to beat this team. But leaving here, getting swept, it just puts a bad taste in your mouth."
As the club prepares for its final nine games of the regular season, Thursday's sweep of the Tigers provided some reassuring signs for the Indians' offense. Francisco Lindor recorded a three-hit night after a 2-for-14 rut, Yasiel Puig stayed hot with a double and a single, Franmil Reyes (who missed two games due to a family matter) returned with a 433-foot blast, and Roberto Pérez continued his sizzling September, with two hits and two RBIs, hitting .395 with a 1.005 OPS in his past 13 games.
"It's a presence," Francona said of Reyes' bat in the lineup. "It could change a game. You can take six, seven bad swings a game and then you take one good one and change the outcome of a game."
Now, the Tribe needs momentum in the final week and a half of the regular season to clinch a Wild Card berth. In their last three series, the Indians will face the Phillies (.517 winning percentage), White Sox (.434) and Nationals (.550). The Rays, who are tied with the Tribe at 90-63, have four games remaining against the Red Sox, two against the Yankees -- who clinched the AL East on Thursday -- and three against the Blue Jays.
"It's definitely stressful," Clevinger said. "Trying to be the same guy every day, but everyone kind of knows what's at stake right now. So I think you kind of see it, but you kind of see it coming out in game play, which is exciting to see, too. That's where you get some bigger action, bigger plays, bigger moments with some of the guys, because they kind of know what's on the line right now."
The victory was the Indians' 90th of the year, joining the Dodgers as the only teams in the Majors to win at least 90 games in each of the past four seasons.
"It's not enough. We need more," Francona said. "I don't know how many more, but I'm guessing we'll need several more."