It was the night of Game 7 of the 2007 American League Championship Series, and what would be one of the great nights in Terry Francona's baseball life by the time it was over. Once, in 2004, in another ALCS, Francona's Red Sox would start the greatest baseball comeback of them all at Fenway Park, in Games 4 and 5 against the Yankees, after falling behind in that series, 3-0. They would win those two games at home and then two more at Yankee Stadium, and never lose another game on their way to winning Boston's first Fall Classic since 1918. It only seemed like 1818 in Boston.
Now, three years later, the Red Sox were doing it again, against the Indians this time. They had been behind 3-1 in that one, on the road. Then Francona had given the ball to Josh Beckett, and Beckett had pitched the way he once had against the Yankees in a deciding World Series game in 2003, when he was still with the Marlins. He had beaten CC Sabathia in a masterful performance, one worthy of a true baseball ace. Then J.D. Drew hit a grand slam in the first inning of Game 6 and the Red Sox rolled. Now Francona's team was one game away from another Series. And then sweeping another Series, this time against the Rockies.
The Sox blew away the Indians in Game 7 of that ALCS. Francona gave the ball to Daisuke Matsuzaka in the deciding game, and Boston scored 11 runs to close things out. This was before all that, Francona leaning over a railing in the Red Sox's dugout, tobacco in his cheek, smile on his face, looking out at old Fenway, and the big baseball night beginning to take shape and come alive. I asked him how he was feeling and he smiled and spit and said, "I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be."
Francona meant the Red Sox's dugout. Now, a decade later, he is in the Indians dugout. And exactly where he is supposed to be, as he and his players have become the last headliners of the regular season, winning 21 in a row, winning so many of them easy, winning them without all of their best players, winning and winning and winning, 11 months after Francona finally lost a World Series, losing Game 7 against the Cubs in the 10th inning in Cleveland after the Indians blew the same kind of 3-1 lead in that Series they had blown against Francona's Red Sox once.
Outside of October, which has always been where Francona has always done his best work, this has turned into a different kind of big month for him and his players. And for baseball. Starting in August and now all the way into September, the Indians have turned into the Warriors. The Warriors, of course, broke Cleveland's heart again in the NBA Finals. But now here come Tito and the Indians. And they keep saying LeBron might be leaving after the upcoming season. It makes the city's baseball team, trying to give Cleveland its first World Series title in 69 years, more important than ever.
So now you better believe their winning streak is at 21, after they beat the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon. It is the longest winning streak in American League history, and the longest in baseball since the 1935 Cubs, and they are five short of tying the 1916 New York Giants, from another century and another world, at 26 in a row, the longest in the history of the game. In all the big ways, in the modern world, this is already the greatest team streak in baseball history. And still going. It was 4-3 at Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon and then Roberto Perez hit one to make it 5-3 and then the last two outs of the game were in Lonnie Chisenhall's glove and the Indians continued to be the main event in their sport.
And please understand this about what the 1916 Giants did: Their streak was earned entirely at home. There was one game that had to be picked up and started from scratch because they didn't pick up games in those days from the point at which they were interrupted; they were tied with the Pirates late and then weather came and they simply started all over again the next day in a double-header, and won (read more about the circumstances here). And, oh by the way? Those Giants also had a 17-game winning streak that season. And ended up in fourth place. Ain't happenin' with Tito's Indians.
The Indians have now put together a winning streak that feels as big and memorable and historic, in their sport, as the Lakers winning 33 in a row in pro basketball in 1971. During the streak, they have had a run differential of plus-104. They have won in all ways, won with the magical kid, Francisco Lindor, at short and with Jose Ramirez, one of the stars of the sport that not nearly enough people outside of Cleveland talk about. And Corey Kluber now pitching the way Chris Sale did for the Red Sox when it was Sale who looked like the best pitcher on the planet. And Edwin Encarnacion providing all of his danger and swagger in the middle of the order, 34 home runs and counting after a slow start.
Michael Brantley gets hurt. Jason Kipnis gets hurt. The Indians keep going. They've been behind in just a handful of innings across the whole streak. Even with the Yankees still chasing the Red Sox, even with so much to be determined about home-field advantage in the playoffs, the baseball September is them. It is the Indians. This is how they come back from Game 7. In the season of the home run in baseball, where it seems as if everybody except Rafael Nadal has hit 20 home runs, the real home run has been the Indians. Tito's guys. Who are trying to do what the Royals did in 2015, the year after the Royals left the tying run of Game 7 on third base in the bottom of the ninth against Madison Bumgarner. The Indians lost that kind of Game 7 to the Cubs. They had lost the game and then Rajai Davis tied the game and then came the most famous rain delay in Series history before the Cubs finally won it in the 10th. Sometimes you come right back from that. And sometimes you never come back. It took a great big fat part of this season for these Indians to look like those Indians. But they sure do now.
Francona missed some time earlier in the season, had to miss the All-Star Game, because of a heart procedure. Told reporters the other day that he wiped out riding his motorized scooter on the way to the ballpark. He keeps coming, too. An October guy watching his team do it in September this time. Ten years from Game 7 against the Indians, he is with them now. Exactly where he is supposed to be. Twenty-one looking for 22. Hoping his team isn't peaking too early, even peaking this late.