On Tuesday night, I watched at least part of a regular-season Indians game for the fifth night in a row. This set a personal record, and for all I know, it might be a California record. When 4:00 p.m. came, it was appointment baseball, and I was riveted. Or 4:12, at least, because I missed the Francisco Lindor home run when someone moved Cleveland to the Eastern Time Zone without clearing it with me first. The next time someone says that Cleveland is a part of the Midwest, take their car keys and hide them.
On Wednesday afternoon, I watched.
On Thursday night, I’ll watch, assuming the Indians win the day before, which they will.
It’s September, and all I want to do is watch and write about Indians games, which is a new position for me. The other thing that’s new, though, is even more of a surprise: I’m actively rooting for them to win. When they get runners on base, I stop fidgeting with my phone and shut up. When Corey Kluber has two strikes, my eyes narrow. I know I’m supposed to be a national writer without (more) rooting interests, but there are three possibilities with the Indians’ winning streak:
- Root for the Indians to win
- Root for the Indians to lose
- Maintain complete and total impartiality
I’ll get to the first one in a second. Rooting for them to lose is something that’s perfectly acceptable for Twins, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox fans. Divisional rivalries are sacred, more sacred than this dumb baseball history, and I can respect that. Hating the other teams is your right.
Rooting for the Indians to lose would also be something you would do if you viscerally hate success. That’s not even a putdown. If you’re coded in a such a way that you’re thinking, “Ah, no, that’s too much winning for you, please leave some for the rest of baseball,” then it’s normal that you want the spectacle to end. I would make fun of this position more, but I remember rooting against the Yankees at the turn of the millennium so danged hard. Their third World Series title in four years was just too much to bear, and then they went and won four in five years. While that’s different in terms of scale to the Indians’ winning streak, it’s at least a second cousin in terms of spirit.
Maintaining complete and total impartiality is for dorks. I love your ability to pretend that you’re Dr. Manhattan as you build sand spires on Mars, watching us mortals collide and bounce off each other. But you’re a liar. When Corey Kluber had two outs on Tuesday night, you were excited at the possibility of him completing the shutout, you were disappointed, or you were bored. It’s possible to root for the best story without explicitly rooting for the Indians, but that still makes you a de facto Indians fan throughout the streak. The Indians winning their 38th straight game before the postseason would be the best possible story, a compelling expedition up a 15,000-foot mountain that appeared in your backyard overnight, but if that gets you excited as an impartial observer ... well, you’re not impartial, really.
Of all three possibilities, I’m pretty sure I’ve chosen the most popular one, though. Watching the Indians to see if they can win 21 ... 22 ... 23 ... games is a mini-McGwire-vs.-Sosa that forges an unnatural coalition out of typically regional baseball factions. I didn’t care about Mark McGwire or the stupid Cardinals, but I sure wanted him to hit baseballs far, and I cheered when he did it. But that was a full season of gluttony, eating a whole pie and feeling satisfied and guilty. Watching every Indians game after 15 wins has been a nightly sliver of tiramisu, absurdly rich, and there’s no need for 162 games of it. A month of it will do just fine.
Tiramisu is a pie, if that helps the analogy.
After a lot of reflection, though, I think I’ve figured out what I love about winning streaks like this so much. I was giggling along with the rest of the world at that A’s/Royals game and the winning streak in 2002, yet it still surprised me how much love I was willing to give its modern counterpart. But I’ve figured some of it out, I think.
Winning streaks transcend era
The home run records are fantastic, but they always require a next step. Barry Bonds has the single-season and career records, but they came in a high-offense era that was also the peak of performance-enhancing drugs. Giancarlo Stanton hitting 62 in that context might impress you more, but he’s doing it in an era where every Tom, Dick, and Barry is hitting 20 and the ball might be different. This guy played in this decade, that guy played against expansion teams, and it’s all a varied cornucopia.
Winning streaks are the same, mostly. It’s hard to win five games in a row, and it always has been. It’s exceptionally hard to win 10 games in a row, and it always has been. It’s wildly, unfathomably hard to win 15 games in a row, and it always has been. When you get to 20, it’s looped back around to normal, as you forget yourself and expect baseball to be predictable again, but that’s always going to be the case.
There’s a caveat, in that baseball used to be a touch more inequitable. There were teams like the Cleveland Spiders and Kansas City Athletics that existed because the Washington Generals were too good at playing baseball, and they allowed teams to fatten up. Teams at the turn of the century would play six-game series, too, which certainly made a difference. There is absolutely a reason why the list of longest streaks throughout history are slanted toward the older teams.
The overall point still stands. Baseball isn’t supposed to work like this, and that simple truth hasn’t changed too much throughout history. It also leads us to our next point ...
Winning streaks like this let you forget that baseball isn’t supposed to work like this
As a Warriors fan, I’ve seen how other sports work. The Warriors have the best players, and unless one of them gets hurt, they should win. Not they might or they could, but they should, so long as everyone stays healthy. Steph Curry’s night is the rough equivalent of Mike Trout getting 20 to 30 plate appearances, 20 to 30 chances to help his team with his speed, and 20 to 30 chances to help his team in the field. Multiply that by 10 to account for his teammates and the bench, and you understand why basketball is different.
A team with Trout, Altuve, Bryant, Simmons, Votto, Arenado, Goldschmidt, and Stanton with Corey Kluber pitching wouldn’t win every nine-inning game, but they would probably win most of their 40-inning games. Basketball players control more of what happens in every game. There are fewer basketball players working together at the same time. It helps filter out the weird.
A winning streak of 15 or more makes you forget that about baseball. It makes you feel as if it’s like other sports, that it isn’t something controlled by unlucky bounces and lucky skips. Baseball is a game that can turn when the slugger takes a ball right down the middle on the first pitch and regrets it for the rest of the afternoon. It’s why a 10-game winning streak is so rare, much less a 21-game streak. There should always be a player on the other team who stumbles into a bases-clearing double at the right time. There should always be a player on your team who stumbles into an umpire at the wrong time. The greatest teams in baseball history lost about 30 percent of the time for a reason.
And yet the Indians will never lose again because you’ve forgotten this. I love that. It feels like baseball is broken, and I love the suspension of disbelief.
The Indians have won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won and won again. It’s a beautiful thing, nearly impossible to root against, even if you thought you didn’t have any rooting interests. You probably do. You probably should.
Because the Indians have won 21 straight, and I’ve already set a reminder for Thursday’s game. I’m going to text some people who are tangentially interested in baseball, at best. The Indians have won 21 straight, and baseball doesn’t make sense anymore. That’s the best part.