As the Cleveland Indians racked up win after win, I watched with amusement, appreciation, then apprehension, and now, finally, at 19 wins in a row, pure dread.
Like most A's fans, I regard the team's American League record 20 game win streak in 2002 as that era’s signature achievement.
The Streak was the most improbable of events. The 2001 A's were a juggernaut, clicking on all cylinders, then losing in spectacularly heartbreaking fashion to the Damn Yankees. In the offseason, they lost the AL MVP in Jason Giambi, also to the freakin’ Yankees, thanks to the notoriously tight purse strings of owners Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman.
2002 was thus set up with slightly lower expectations, although the team had plenty of talent. And when the streak started, the A's were having a very good year, but found themselves a few games behind the Angels. Then, as we all know, history happened. The A's reeled off the magical 20.
The Streak was made all the more dramatic because it was necessary to keep pace in the division, and built up to an epic climax as the A's needed walk offs to win games 18, 19, and 20, with of course the most drama one could imagine. Quickly turning Game 20 into an all-out 11-0 party, the Coliseum was rocking, and everyone relaxed. Then, somehow, the hapless Royals came back. At first, fans weren’t worried. Then came the nervousness, shock, and extreme panic as they managed to come all the way back to tie it at 11.
Of course, that set the stage for the dramatic finish, with none other than Scott Hatteberg, the almost-out-of-baseball-catcher-turned-first baseman, tasked with replacing the mighty Giambi, crushing the walk-off blast. As Hall of Famer Bill King said on the immortal radio call, “Crazy...Just plain crazy!” It was, as they say, a storybook finish to the Streak.
Of course, they did indeed write a book about that team. That book got made into a movie. And that movie featured some of the biggest actors on the planet. This was a big deal, not just in Oakland but nationwide. This is OUR thing. And damn if I want a team from Cleveland taking that from us, a mere 15 years later. We didn’t even get to a World Series with those squads. Just end of season heartbreak, year after year after year. The Streak is all we have from that storied time. Will it still be remembered? Will it mean anything anymore? Or will it just be the equivalent of a winning the division and exiting in the ALDS, a forgotten team that achieved near-brilliance?
Cleveland’s streak, like any historic win streak, is certainly a remarkable achievement. However, it lacks the drama, the story, the improbability that ours had. This is a team that went to the World Series just last year, and got even better. There isn’t a team within miles of them in the AL Central. Their streak has been one of methodical domination. They’ve hit more home runs (38) than they have runs allowed (32) over these 19 games. Only four innings have ended with them trailing. It’s a brutally good team destroying their lesser opponents. If they get the record, it would be well-deserved, but relatively boring, and more to the point, I don’t want them to have it. Maybe I’m just biased, bitter, petty, fearful, overprotective, all of the above. Whatever, I don’t care.
Tomorrow, Cleveland sends Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to face off at home against the recently dismantled Detroit Tigers. Chances are, the Indians will get to 20 and then some. But I’ll be rooting with all my might for them to boot every grounder, trip over each other in the outfield, hang every breaking ball, whiff over and over again, and somehow, someway, find a way to lose.
Baseball Gods, I beg you, answer my prayer.