Cleveland — The Tigers, let’s be clear, are a little tired of hat-tipping the Cleveland Indians. But, in their torn-down, pre-reconstruction state, they can’t muster much resistance these days.
“I don’t care if the other team won 20 in a row or lost 20 in a row, I just want to win,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after the Indians beat his club 2-0 to post their 20th straight victory. “They’ve been on a great run and I give them all the credit in the world. They are probably the best team in baseball, they certainly are right now.
“But I don’t want beat them because they are on some streak. I just want to win a baseball game.”
The 20-game winning streak is the longest in the major leagues since the Oakland A’s won 20 straight in 2002. They can tie the modern-day record — 21 straight wins set by the Cubs in 1935 — against the Tigers, whom they have been beaten six times during the streak, on Wednesday.
(Elias recognizes the 26-game winning streak by the 1916 New York Giants, though they played a tie game within the streak.)
“That’s something they should be proud of, but I am not real happy about it,” Ausmus said. “We lost today and we lost yesterday.”
The Indians have outscored their 20 victims by 102 runs in the streak. This was the seventh shutout posted in the streak, the second straight against the Tigers. After Carlos Carrasco blanked the Tigers on Monday, Indians ace Corey Kluber, with 24,654 fans standing and cheering his final pitches, topped it with a complete-game, five-hit shutout.
“I think it's the right type of atmosphere for them,” Ian Kinsler said. “Whether they're on a winning streak or not, I think that would be the atmosphere for a guy that's had an incredible year, who is throwing a complete-game shutout.
“You expect a playoff team and the fans of a playoff team to be into it and excited for their club. The fans were great tonight.”
Kinsler doubled to lead off the game and was stranded at third after Kluber struck out Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos. Cabrera was called out on a pitch that replays showed was outside the strike zone.
“That strike three to Miggy changed the inning,” Ausmus said.
It was the Tigers' first and last serious scoring threat.
Castellanos doubled with two out in the fourth. He also singled in the seventh and Tyler Collins singled in the eighth — both were erased on double plays.
With two outs in the ninth, Alex Presley lined a double to the gap in right-center. That brought up Cabrera, representing the tying run. Kluber, on his 113th pitch, got Cabrera to ground out weakly to third.
“He’s one of the best in the game,” Ausmus said of Kluber. “He’s got four pitches and they all look the same coming out of his hand, but they all move differently.”
The Indians starting pitchers are 18-0 in the streak.
Unlike Monday, though, the Tigers made a ballgame of it.
“We often show fight,” Ausmus said. “I’d like to see us win.”
Tigers starter Matthew Boyd gave up a first-inning, leadoff home to Francisco Lindor — his 30th of the season — then battled and clawed his way through four scoreless innings after that. He may have scored low on the pitch-efficiency meter, but his compete levels were off the charts.
“He always competes,” Ausmus said. “In the past, he’s had trouble avoiding the big inning. This time he avoided big innings in two bases-loaded situations. But it pushed his pitch-count up.”
Second inning: The Indians loaded the bases with one out on singles by Jay Bruce, Yandy Diaz and Brandon Guyer. But Boyd fought out of it. He struck out Yan Gomes swinging through a 1-2 change-up.
Then he went to 3-2 on Lindor. First, he challenged him with a 92-mph fastball that Lindor fouled away. He came back with a gutsy change-up, and got Lindor to foul out to catcher Bryan Holaday.
“You just focus on one pitch at a time,” Boyd said. “You attack one pitch at a time. You don’t let the circumstances dictate how you feel.”
Holaday went to the mound both before the Gomes strike-out pitch and the Lindor foul out. Possibly he wanted to give the pitch-call verbally to thwart any possible sign-stealing attempts by the Indians.
“Yeah, something like that,” Boyd said. “Doc just has a knack for when to come out, as well. We worked quite a bit this year and in past years. He’s a veteran catcher and he knows what he’s doing.”
There was no doubt about what pitch they were going to throw Lindor on 3-2, as risky as it might have been.
“He said 3-2 change-up and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go with it,’ ” Boyd said. “You have to pride yourself on situations like that when guys are battling you. You have to be able to throw any pitch in any count. They were fouling off my fastball, so, go to the other stuff.”
Third inning: After Austin Jackson and Jose Ramirez singled to start the inning, Boyd struck out Edwin Encarnacion (looking at a curveball) and Carlos Santana (swinging at a fastball).
It looked like he had Bruce struck out, too, but Boyd didn’t get the call on a close 3-2 curveball and the bases were loaded again.
Undaunted, he caught an overeager Diaz chasing a first-pitch fastball and got him to fly to center.
At that point, Boyd was at 81 pitches. But he was also locked in. He retired the next six batters, leaving a 1-0 game after five innings. It was an impressive outing: one run, six hits, five strikeouts and a career-high 116 pitches.
“You take both the good and bad out of every start,” said Boyd, who has a 1.91 ERA in five games against the Indians. “But you have to match your opponent sometimes and the only way we were going to beat that guy (Kluber) was to take him out of the game.
“He pitched a whale of a game. There is a reason why he’s going to win the Cy Young.”
The Indians stole the second run in the sixth inning. Blaine Hardy relieved Boyd and gave up a leadoff hit to Santana, who turned what should’ve been a single into a double. Left-fielder Alex Presley cut the ball off but didn’t field it cleanly.
He went to third on a ground out. Drew VerHagen was summoned and struck out Diaz for the second out. After he walked pinch-hitter Francisco Mejia intentionally, VerHagen’s first pitch to Gomes was wild and got by Holaday, allowing Santana to score.
“You'd like to think that we could produce a run,” Kinsler said. “I think Boyd worked through a lot of trouble and kept us in the game. I think he did a great job of that. I thought our relievers did, too.
“It was a good job by our pitchers. Offensively we just couldn't get anything moving.”