CLEVELAND >> As they climb toward baseball history with every win, the streaking Cleveland Indians are chasing a hallowed, 101-year-old record that includes an asterisk.
A major league asterisk.
The 26-game winning string by the 1916 New York Giants includes a tie.
“I think I knew that,” Indians closer Cody Allen said.
Not everyone is aware of the peculiarity. And as the Indians, who tonight became the fourth team since 1900 to win 20 straight, have moved into position to threaten the Giants’ revered mark, questions have arisen as to why a team that won 12 consecutive games, played a tie and then ripped off 14 more wins in a row would have the record.
It’s simple. It’s complicated. It’s baseball.
“A tie was never an acceptable result of a baseball game,” explained Steve Hirdt, executive vice president at the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s official record keeper. “If one happened because of darkness or rain or some certain circumstance, the game was played over.
“Sports fans are used to the nuance in hockey and football of the difference between a winning streak and an unbeaten streak or consecutive games streak without a loss. Baseball has never had those two different records. They would replay the game until a legitimate won or loss result was achieved.”
The 1916 Giants, 1935 Chicago Cubs (21), 2002 Oakland Athletics (20) and 2017 Indians are the only teams in the modern era to post winning streaks of at least 20 games. Cleveland joined the exclusive club when ace and Cy Young Award co-favorite Corey Kluber tossed a five-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Tigers.
Now that they’re at 20, the Indians have five more home games to pull closer to a record — albeit with its slight abnormality — that has endured.
Perhaps because of confusion over the tie, New York’s 26-game streak has been absent from lists on some baseball websites and elsewhere. The omission could be because some databases only recognize wins and losses and when the Giants’ 1916 season is calculated, there is an interruption in a streak that is widely known to hardcore baseball fans as the one to beat.
“The Giants’ 26-game winning streak has existed since the beginning of time,” Hirdt said. “I do not know why certain people are looking at the 21 now and holding that up as the record or alternately trying to parse language so that they can somehow exclude the 26.
“It’s the longest winning streak, it’s the record for most consecutive wins, etc., because a tie game breaks neither a winning streak or losing streak for a team because it always gets replayed unless the season ends first.”
Those streaky New York Giants, guided by irascible manager John McGraw, were in the midst of a 31-game homestand at the Polo Grounds when they won 12 straight before a Sept. 18 game against Pittsburgh — 42-year-old Honus Wagner drove in the Pirates’ only run with a sacrifice fly — was called by rain after nine innings and the score tied 1-1.
The Giants came back the following day and, playing their third doubleheader in four days, swept the Pirates. They didn’t lose again until Sept. 30, falling 8-3 to the Boston Braves.
Earlier that season, the Giants won 17 straight games — all on the road — to offset a 2-13 start. Despite its tendency to take off on a tear, New York finished 86-66 and in fourth place in an eight-team league won by the Brooklyn Robins.
“Incredible,” Hirdt said of the Giants’ streakiness. “I guess if they weren’t streaking, they weren’t interested.”
Today, games that are tied when called are suspended and resume at that point. There are instances when games end in ties, as happened to the Cubs last season when a late September game with Pittsburgh ended 1-1 because the teams were not scheduled to meet again.
During their streak, the Indians have been bulldozing teams, outscoring opponents 134-32 during a remarkable run that began on Aug. 24 with a 13-6 win at Boston followed by three straight shutouts at home over Kansas City.
Since then, there’s been nothing but Ws, let alone a tie.
But tied games were fairly common a century ago, when doubleheaders often were played in the late afternoon and there were no stadium lights.
While the Indians insist they’re not chasing history, often repeating the one-day-at-a-time cliche athletes typically fall back on to explain success, Hirdt, like many baseball fans, is eager to see if Cleveland can topple the Giants’ gigantic mark.
“This is the record that I always wanted to see challenged,” he said. “People always ask me, ‘What record would you like to see broken?’ I’ve always been a team-oriented guy and I tell them I would like to see a consecutive winning streak.
“And here it is.”