CLEVELAND — Baseball is serious business at the major league level, but the Cleveland Indians don’t seem to know that.
At least not lately.
Cleveland extended its franchise-record winning streak to 16 games Friday with a 5-0 victory in front of 30,090 fans in the opener of a three-game series.
And the key word during the historic streak? Fun.
“That’s what I think is the coolest part and why we’re playing so well, it’s just the fun we’re having on the field,” Cleveland starting pitcher Mike Clevinger said. “I mean you can look around the dugout and clubhouse — on the field, off the field — we’re having a ton of fun together and I think that’s feeding us on the field.
“I mean you try not to think too much about the streak. Your eyes are still set on the same goals that we first started out with, but it gives it more of a playoff atmosphere at least in the stands. You can definitely see the energy and feel the energy around the crowd and that kind of gave it that October feeling.”
The statistics during the stretch are staggering for the Indians, who are one of only three teams in the modern era (since 1900) to have posted streaks of 14 or more games over two consecutive seasons. Cleveland’s win streak is the longest since Oakland won 20 straight in 2002, with the Indians joining the A’s and Royals as the only teams to post win streaks of 16 or more since 1961.
The Indians have outscored opponents 114-28 during the streak, trailing only twice in 144 innings. They haven’t lost since Aug. 23 against the Red Sox.
As they have done in each of their last 16 wins, the Indians scored first, getting a three-run home run from Edwin Encarnacion in the opening inning.
They added a run in the sixth on Carlos Santana’s two-out double, then tacked on another in the seventh when Francisco Lindor came home on a wild pitch.
“It certainly helps and it’s not always as easy, sometimes it isn’t,” manager Terry Francona said of scoring early. “Eddie (had) a huge swing to put us up early.”
Encarnacion reached base for the 31st straight game — the longest active streak in the majors — with a no-doubt blast (estimated at 428 feet) over the shrubs in center field for his 34th homer.
“I don’t think there is ever going to be a moment where he hits the ball where it’s not a ‘wow’ every time it goes over that fence,” Clevinger said of Encarnacion. “There is so much power and force that he brings to the plate it’s almost scary.”
The run support was plenty for Clevinger, who became the first Indians starting pitcher to record three straight scoreless outings of at least six innings since John Denny in 1981.
The right-hander didn’t allow a hit until a single from Manny Machado with two outs in the third, surrendering three over six innings, while striking out seven.
“(The Orioles) have such a good lineup and I thought Clev really made some pitches,” Francona said. “He had a couple walks early, but he wasn’t wild. He just missed a bunch, but, boy, he came back and made some full-count pitches, off-speed in fastball counts. (He) really pitched and he stayed down the entire night.
“He’s getting better and he’s maturing and it gets exciting. It’s fun to watch guys get better.”
Clevinger’s sparkling performance continued a dominant stretch for the Indians rotation, which has posted a 14-0 record and 1.80 ERA over the 16-game winning streak.
And that’s been fun, of course.
“We’re feeding off the energy of each previous outing and it’s fun,” Clevinger said. “I feel like it’s more so just the standards get set and the bar gets higher and higher and then you try to meet that bar each time you go out there.”
The shutout was the 17th for Cleveland, which is the most in the majors this season and the most by the Indians since they matched the total in 1976.