CLEVELAND -- Lest you forget the baseball gods can be perversely playful, the score was tied after nine at Progressive Field on Thursday night. In the hours leading up to the first pitch of what would become the Indians' 22nd consecutive victory, conversations about a so-called "tie" that took place on Sept. 18, 1916, had become almost theological in nature. A game is not a game until it's a game, and that non-game, which was replayed in its entirety the next day and won by the New York Giants as part of their record -- yes, there's the word -- 26-win streak had some people incorrectly questioning the validity of the 101-year-old mark.
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There's no tying in baseball. There was no column in the standings for ties in 1916, and there is no column for them now.
With the benefit of lights, the 2017 Indians were able to keep playing into the 10th, able to turn their tie into a 3-2 triumph over the Royals. They did not set a new record with win No. 22. And that's just fine, because they've already done something arguably more impressive. Because it is occurring in a more modern, more dynamic time and has been more statistically dominant than any lossless run before it, The Streak is not baseball's longest but its best. And on Thursday, it survived its first legit scare and even allowed the Indians and their fans the cosmic delight that is passing the 1935 Cubs -- franchise forebearers of the 2016 team that broke their hearts -- in the record books.
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If you haven't yet beat the record, you might as well beat the Cubbies, right?
Until this night, The Streak had somehow circumvented a seminal moment. The Tribe's assembly-line nature to the notching of W's had made the first 21 games a workmanlike wonder. There was nothing boring about it, because watching a baseball team strain the realities of the very sport it plays isn't boring at all. But to truly venture from its beating place in our hearts to a more menacingly memorable spot in our stomachs, The Streak needed some tension, needed some anxiety from a fan base so accustomed to unease anyway.
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And so on this night, there were four innings that ended with Cleveland trailing -- something that had happened in just four innings total in the first 189 innings of The Streak. And there was Francisco Lindor, aka Mr. Smile, ripping a double when The Streak was down to its last strike. And there was Jay Bruce's walk-off double in the extra inning. And there was bedlam, and there was "Bruuuuuce"-ing, and there was baby powder and there was a ripped jersey and a roaring crowd and a feeling that this is as good as non-October baseball could ever hope to be.
"My goodness sakes," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "It's fun. It's a lot of fun."
Some might attach grander statistical meaning to No. 22 than it deserves. But the book is the book. Records, appropriately, record what happened. Had Thursday's game been suspended by rain and picked up at a later date, we certainly wouldn't question the legitimacy of The Streak. So it is that we shouldn't question 1916, either.
Things transpired differently in 1916 than they do today, which ought not be a shock. Rain and darkness intervened after eight innings of the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 18, 1916, and standard practice was not to pick up the game at 1-1 in the ninth but at 0-0 in the first. They did it the next day. The Giants won it convincingly for their 13th straight. They won the second game that day for their 14th. And they kept going to 26, the number the Elias Sports Bureau -- the official statistician of Major League Baseball -- lists as the record.
The Giants played every one of those 26 games at home, because extensive homestands and road trips were also standard practice in 1916. So much that was standard then is unfathomable now, and that would surely work both ways. The sport was not integrated. The ball was dead, and you could spit on it. "Short rest" was standard rest. On and on we could go.
It was a different time in 1935, too, when the Cubs won 21 straight. And for that matter in 1880, when an early installment of the Cubs (then known as the White Stockings) also won 21 straight. Someday, if some club comes across the Indians' mark, wherever it lies, those witnessing the run might look back at 2017 and remark at how odd it appears.
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For now, it appears Cleveland is October-ready. The Streak has propelled the Indians past the Astros for the best record in the American League, put them in contention with the Dodgers for the best record in the game and given their fans an early adaptation to the frayed nerves and clenched teeth and queasy tummies that will soon be a ritual all over again. For the players themselves, it has instilled an edge that might not otherwise be there this time of year.
"[When] you've all but wrapped up the division, the games can get long, they can get boring, they can get monotonous," Bruce said. "We've got a lot of things going for us that makes it not like that. Obviously with The Streak, people are going crazy and it's a playoff atmosphere. We're trying to get the best record in baseball. So we've got a lot to play for. I think it's the perfect combination for a team that's so far up."
The Indians are so far up in the standings and ever-so-slightly behind in the record books. The Streak does not yet stand alone. But it sure stands tall.