CLEVELAND – Just a little more than a month ago, Jay Bruce was in New York sinking with the Mets as a season that began with promise and a richness of pitching was undermined by injuries.
The plunge was dramatic. So was the rise.
A trade rescued Bruce and dropped him in Cleveland, where he made history on Wednesday.
“I pretty much went from the least fun situation in baseball to the most fun,” he said.
Bruce hit a three-run homer in the first inning as the Indians set the AL record with their 21st straight win, a 5-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers that pushed Cleveland closer to another division title and within reach of a 101-year mark that has come under scrutiny because of a peculiarity.
Unbeaten and nearly unchallenged for three weeks, the Indians surpassed the “Moneyball” 2002 Oakland Athletics for the league record and tied the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second longest streak since 1900.
The only team to win more consecutive games was the 1916 New York Giants, who won 12 in a row, played a tie that was ended by rain and replayed, and then won 14 more.
Despite the tie, the Giants’ streak is acknowledged as the record by Elias Sports Bureau, MLB’s statistical watchdog. The flaw in the record has perturbed some fans. Not the Indians.
“I’ve given that zero thought,” manager Terry Francona said when asked if he regarded 21 or 26 as the record. “I promise you I’ve given it no thought.”
That’s been the attitude of his players, who have gone 21-0 with minimal celebrating. When closer Cody Allen got the final out, retiring Ian Kinsler on a sinking liner to left field, the 29,000 fans who hung on every pitch inside Progressive Field as if it was Game 7 of the World Series, erupted as flames shot from over the center-field wall and fireworks exploded overhead.
The Indians didn’t mob each other or carry on as if it was a big deal. They’ve got more important games — and hopefully victories — ahead of them.
Cleveland’s first World Series title since 1948 remains the only goal for a team built to win.
“We don’t have time to worry about what happened in the past and we definitely don’t have any time to worry about what’s going to happen in the future,” Bruce said. “We have a group of guys here, coaching staff and just a whole organization that kind of echoes that sentiment. It’s something that we haven’t had to deal with and there’s been no pulling the reins back on people or hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“Everyone comes here and gets ready to play and I think that’s something that speaks volumes.”
After Detroit took a 1-0 lead in the first off Mike Clevinger (10-5), Bruce put Cleveland back on top for good with his three-run shot into the left-field bleachers. It was his 34th homer this season and fifth with the Indians, who acquired him on Aug. 9, an all-in move necessitated by All-Star Michael Brantley going on the disabled list with a serious ankle injury.
Bruce has provided protection for Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion and given Francona even more depth in a lineup with no apparent holes.
“You make a mistake and he knows what to do with it,” Francona said.
When he met with reporters following the Indians’ historic win, Bruce wore a red T-shirt with Cleveland’s controversial smiling Chief Wahoo emblazoned on the front. There were moments when Bruce’s beamed just as brightly.
He’ll be a free agent after the season, but any thoughts about his future are on hold as he savors being on a team expected to play deep into October.
The Indians are 30-5 since Bruce arrived, and that may not be coincidence. He joked about “some selection bias” when asked if he’s changed the club’s fortunes.
Dodgers 4, Giants 1
In San Francisco, Yu Darvish and two relievers combined on a five-hitter and Cody Bellinger hit his 37th home run as Los Angeles won back-to-back games for the first time in nearly three weeks, beating the Giants
Darvish, acquired from Texas at the July trade deadline, was 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA in six previous starts with Los Angeles but was crisp in his first career outing against San Francisco.
The All-Star right-hander pitched three-hit ball over seven innings, struck out five and allowed only three runners while facing one more than the minimum.
Phillies 8, Marlins 1
In Philadelphia, Phillies rookie Rhys Hoskins kept up his record home run pace, connecting for his 17th in 33 major league games as the hosts beat Miami behind Aaron Nola.
Hoskins, called up from the minors Aug. 10, is the fastest player in big league history to get to 17 career homers. The record was 42 games by Wally Berger, an outfielder for the Boston Braves in 1930.
Marlins pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki struck out in the seventh.
Yankees 3, Rays 2
In New York, Jaime Garcia allowed only Kevin Kiermaier’s solo homer in 4⅔ innings in a victory over Tampa Bay at Citi Field.
Chad Green (5-0) struck out three of his four batters and Aroldis Chapman got four outs for his 18th save in 22 chances. Chapman fanned four and earned his first save of more than three outs since Game 5 of last year’s World Series for the Chicago Cubs.
White Sox 5, Royals 3
In Kansas City, Jose Abreu hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the ninth, and Chicago won a series in Kansas City for the first time since 2015.
Angels 9, Astros 1
In Anaheim, Los Angeles scored five runs in the first inning and then rode left-hander Tyler Skaggs’ finest start of the season to beat Houston.
Diamondbacks 10, Rockies 2
In Phoenix, A.J. Pollock homered and drove in four runs to back another strong outing by Patrick Corbin as the Diamondbacks expanded their lead in the wild-card race.
Brewers 8, Pirates 2
In Milwaukee, center fielder Brett Phillips made the highlight reel and blooper reel on the same night, not bad for a Brewers rookie who wasn’t even supposed to be in the starting lineup.
Twins 3, Padres 1 (10)
In Minnesota, Eddie Rosario delivered a towering two-run home run with two outs in the 10th to send the Twins past San Diego.
Reds 6, Cardinals 0
In St. Louis, Cincinnati rookie Tyler Mahle threw five innings for his first major league win, Eugenio Suarez hit a grand slam and the Reds blanked the hosts.
Cubs 17, Mets 5
In Chicago, Javier Baez homered and had four hits and Albert Almora Jr. also went deep and drove in six runs after coming off the bench in the seventh inning as the Cubs routed New York.
The Mets’ Norichika Aoki went 1-for-5.
Mariners 8, Rangers 1
In Arlington, Mike Zunino homered twice, Jean Segura also went deep and Seattle jumped over Texas in the AL wild-card chase while handing Martin Perez his first loss in eight starts.
Athletics 7, Red Sox 3
In Boston, Matt Olson had a two-run homer, Jed Lowrie drove in two runs and Oakland topped the Red Sox to win for the sixth time in seven games.
Orioles 2, Blue Jays 1
In Toronto, Kevin Gausman pitched seven strong innings and Baltimore edged the Blue Jays to stop a six-game skid.
Braves 8, Nationals 2
In Washington, Dansby Swanson smacked a two-run single off Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the seventh inning, Matt Kemp hit a grand slam off Brandon Kintzler two batters later and Atlanta pulled away from the hosts.