The most extraordinary winning streak in baseball history ended in most ordinary fashion Friday night, as the Cleveland Indians lost a baseball game for the first time since Aug. 23.
Their winning streak died at 22 games, not with a dramatic and gut-wrenching finish. Rather, the end was marked by a perfunctory performance that comes often over a 162-game season, yet one the Indians somehow managed to avoid for nearly a month as they played peerless baseball and eventually captivated the baseball-watching public.
The Kansas City Royals beat the Indians 4-3 at Progressive Field, doing what five other teams could not since the Boston Red Sox defeated them Aug. 23.
So these Indians end with an American League record 22 consecutive victories, and one win better than the 1935 Chicago Cubs.
Yes, they’re still staring up at the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 in a row.
But that streak was interrupted by an eight-inning, weather-shortened tie, and the Giants played all their games at home.
Cleveland had no such qualifiers to this streak.
The Indians throttled opponents, outscoring them by 106 runs, recording seven shutouts, and clubbing 41 home runs while holding opponents to just 35 runs.
Friday, there was no pratfall -- but also no magic.
It ended with Francisco Lindor at the plate, roughly 24 hours after he extended the streak one more night even with the Indians down to their final strike -- by ripping an opposite-field, RBI double to force extra innings.
Friday, he had the tying run on base, but flailed at strike three from Royals reliever Mike Minor to end it.
A sellout crowd of 34,025 rose and saluted their heroes, who returned the favor.
"I think our players wanted to show their appreciation," Indians manager Terry 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."
Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (16-9) was OK, exiting in the sixth inning of a 3-3 tie, and one runner on base. But reliever Joe Smith -- who’d racked up five holds and a save during the streak -- gave up the go-ahead RBI single to Lorenzo Cain, as the Royals tallied single runs in three consecutive innings to take the lead.
Cleveland put runners on base in each of the next three innings, and had Thursday night walk-off hero Jay Bruce at the plate in the eighth inning. But his hard grounder up the middle was snared by shortstop Alcides Escobar, whose throw to first was dug out nicely by Eric Hosmer.
Threat over. An inning later, streak over. Though it’s not like the Indians have much to complain about.
“I think it was appropriate. We haven’t lost a game in three weeks. We played a good game,” Bruce said to The Associated Press. “It wasn’t like we got just blown out or anything.
“I think (it was important) to have a bit of a light-hearted attitude about it all, and not take it too hard, obviously, because we’re in a great position. We just did something that, depending on who you ask, one or no teams have ever done. So, it’s one of those deals where we understand what the situation is, and this is not something that would happen very often.”
When the streak began, the Indians were 69-56 and held a 4½ game lead in the AL Central, and the third-best record in the AL.
As it ends, their record is 91-57, their Central lead is 13 games and they have the best record in the American League.
"I don’t think anything’s over," said Francona. "We showed up today to win. We didn't. We came close. We got the winning run to the plate. We’ll win some of those games.
"To me, this is more a jumping-off point. Where do we go from here? Up. Common sense says you’ll lose a game."
Indeed, a year after a surprise playoff run fell a game short of a World Series title, they will enter as favorites to repeat as pennant winners.
Their 22-game streak made sure of that -- and also ensured this club will go down in history, regardless of its October performance.