Ed Puskas: Tribe’s truth stranger than fiction
All that is missing from the Cleveland Indians’ American League-record winning streak are Jake Taylor, Ricky Vaughn, Willie Mays Hayes, Pedro Cerrano and Roger Dorn.
But when you think about the magical run of the last three weeks, the exploits of the fictional Indians from “Major League” are almost more believable than what we’ve seen in real life.
The Indians have done this without their best reliever (Andrew Miller), starting left fielder (Michael Brantley), staring second baseman (Jason Kipnis) and mostly without a starting pitcher (Danny Salazar) who is now in the bullpen. And on Sunday night, they lost their starting center fielder (Bradley Zimmer) with a broken hand.
Doesn’t matter. The Indians don’t even acknowledge adversity. They just keep winning.
Even the September call-ups are getting timely hits and contributing in other ways. Giovanni Urshela made two plays at third base in the eighth inning that would have made Brooks Robinson proud.
The starting pitching was not a surprise. Corey Kluber has won a Cy Young Award. Carlos Carrasco might be baseball’s best No. 2 starter. But Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have been locked in of late and Mike Clevinger has pitched at times like a young Tim Lincecum, instead of just wearing his hair like an extra from “Dazed and Confused.”
The Indians lead baseball in strikeouts and in allowing the fewest walks. That is a winning combination.
Salazar might be the hardest thrower of the bunch and barring injuries to others, he’s likely to pitch out of an already dominant bullpen. How tough will the Indians be to beat with Salazar’s 97 mph fastball and the sizzling stuff a healthy Miller provides?
Indians fans love to hate Bryan Shaw, but the hard-throwing right-hander has been one of the most reliable setup men in baseball for three years. Cody Allen sometimes makes the ninth inning dangerous, but he worked a 1-2-3 ninth each of his last two times out.
Even the Tribe’s so-called “other” relievers — Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Zach McAllister, Joe Smith and Tyler Olson — would be closer to the back end of most MLB bullpens.
The Indians are a collective embarrassment of riches. How much so? It’s extremely difficult to win 21 games in a row, but Manager Terry Francona’s Indians have made it look easy. Tribe starters are 19-0 with a 1.70 ERA during the streak and they’ve outscored opponents 139-35. Perhaps most remarkable, they’ve trailed in just four of 189 innings.
If the Tribe was any looser right now, the clubhouse would be a frat house.
A couple of weeks ago, Carlos Santana was hit by a pitch and headed to first in obvious pain. When the Indians’ defense took the field for the next inning, Santana’s fellow infielders took turns mocking him by hitting each other with ball and “writhing” in pain.
The players pass the time on the bench by studying their teammates and creating baseball “heads” made to resemble them.
And on Wednesday, when the Indians beat the Tigers 5-3 to set the AL record with 21 straight victories, Shaw stumbled and bumbled on a chopper to the mound and ended up on his backside behind the mound.
Eighth inning, two runners on and a two-run lead and Francisco Lindor, the young star shortstop, could be seen openly laughing about Shaw’s tumble.
This team is as loose and confident as any I’ve ever seen. And yet, the Tribe is doing all the little things right. They’re confident and and prepared every day.
Rest assured, no one wants to play the Indians right now.
Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.