CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians can return to clinching their division and playoff preparations.
Their historic winning streak is, well, history.
Cleveland had its AL record run stopped at 22 straight games on Friday night as the Indians were beaten 4-3 by the Kansas City Royals, who became the first team to conquer the defending league champions since Aug. 23.
Jason Vargas (16-10) pitched into the sixth and Brandon Moss homered off Trevor Bauer (16-9) as the Royals, who were beaten five times by Cleveland over the past few weeks, ended baseball’s longest win streak in 101 years.
The Indians set a new league mark and came within four of matching the overall record held by the 1916 New York Giants, a 26-game string that included one tie.
Despite the loss, Cleveland’s magic number for clinching the AL Central dropped to two following Minnesota’s loss to Toronto.
Following a magical, walk-off win in extra innings on Thursday night, the Indians couldn’t muster another late rally.
When Francisco Lindor struck out with a runner on first to end it, the sellout crowd of 34,025 gave the Indians a prolonged standing ovation. Manager Terry Francona brought Cleveland’s players out of the dugout to salute their fans, whose cheering grew louder and louder.
This was something they’ll likely never see again in their lifetimes and both the Indians and their fans wanted to savor every second of an accomplishment while looking forward to October, when the games become more meaningful.
“They’ve been so supportive,” Francona said of the crowd. “The atmosphere around here is incredible and I think our players wanted to show their appreciation. It’s by no means the last game of the year or anything like that, 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.
“I don’t think anything is over.”
The Indians, who are already assured a playoff spot, not only broke the previous AL record of 20 held by the 2002 “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics, but they served notice that they well could be the team to beat in the postseason as they attempt to get back to the World Series and perhaps end their 68-year title drought after the Chicago Cubs halted their 108-year dryspell at Cleveland’s expense in 2016.
With one last chance in the ninth, the Indians put the tying run on base before Royals reliever Mike Minor struck out the side for his first pro save, fanning Lindor on a pitch in the dirt for the final out.
It was Lindor on Thursday night who had prolonged the streak with a two-out, two-strike RBI double in the ninth inning before Bruce doubled home the winning run in the 10th to give Cleveland win No. 22.
That touched off a wild celebration, which shook Progressive Field and gave Cleveland fans a chance to get ready for bigger games to come.
“I think it was appropriate. We haven’t lost a game in three weeks. We played a good game,” Cleveland outfielder Jay Bruce said. “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.”
For the better part of a month, the Indians had no equals.
“What they did over there was amazing. I mean, it’s utterly amazing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s just unfathomable for me that you can go three weeks without losing a game. I mean, it was a tremendous accomplishment.”
“I mean, we’ve got a runner on first, two outs, two strikes on Lindor, and I told Jirsch (third base coach Mike Jirschele), ‘man, we’ve been here before.’ Luckily we got through it tonight,” he said.
On their way to making AL history, the Indians romped through the league like no team has before.
They outscored opponents 145-41, led in all but 12 of 207 innings, hit 42 homers and captured the attention of baseball fans fixated on the hot-then-cold Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and seeing how far Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge could hit homers.
Francona kept his players focused throughout the streak, mindful that it could become too big. They’ll likely wrap it up this weekend and can start looking ahead to a postseason where the only streak that will matter is winning the last game they play.