CLEVELAND -- Less than an hour after his team broke the record for most consecutive wins in baseball history, Indians rookie Greg Allen left the team's clubhouse and headed down the hall to get some food to take back to his hotel. Cleveland had won, again, this time in extra innings, 3-2 over the Royals, in a wild regular-season game that felt like the playoffs. Allen's entire major league career is shorter than the Indians' 22-game winning streak; he still has never lost a game. Along with a teammate, he walked through the empty left-field concourse, past a Cleveland cop and a cleaning crew, headed out the same gate as many of the fans. A security guard, seeming to mistake him for a lingering fan, thanked him for coming and hoped he'd be back tomorrow.
"We'll be here," he said.
He had an at-bat in this historic game, and the noise of the crowd, and the tension, made him feel some real nerves. The stadium shook the whole game, with fans waving homemade signs about the streak, and loud booming "Bruuuuuce" chants when Jay Bruce came to the plate. But it was when the Indians were down to the last strike, two outs in the ninth, that the place really hit a gear it hasn't seen since last October. Francisco Lindor doubled off the wall to tie the game and the stadium seemed to vibrate. After Bruce drove in the winning run an inning later, his teammates ripped his jersey off in the excitement.
In Akron or Lake County or Lynchburg, Allen never saw anything like that, much less got to be in the middle of it. After the game, manager Tito Francona mentioned him by name in his news conference, saying how these experiences are invaluable for him, to really understand what an important game feels like. That made Allen happy.
"I was part of it," he says. "I had a front-row seat for the end of it."
The streak has captured the attention of baseball lovers, and people who just like to see crazy stuff, but for a handful of September call-ups, it has been a baptism. They've been thrown into the middle of a group playing perhaps the most dominant ball any team has ever played. Allen, who has big dreams about the kind of career he wants, has been almost slack-jawed at the grown-ass men who come to work alongside him. He describes the work his new teammates do as "craft," one he takes seriously.
"It's been unreal to watch," he says, walking past the basketball arena. "Sometimes you try to pinch yourself. They make a game that's very difficult look very easy."
These two weeks have been, for him and some of his teammates, a graduate degree from the most prestigious baseball college in the world. That's what Francona meant when he talked about Allen in his postgame news conference.
"It felt like a playoff game," Francona said, "and that's invaluable."
These weeks will have a long, rippling impact in Allen's career. That's the hidden and potentially most significant benefit of a September winning streak: creating an October atmosphere for young ballplayers who one day might find themselves in the real thing, facing important at-bats in important games, having some memories and experiences to cling to in the storm. In Allen's brief time in Cleveland -- he joined the team on the road and has been here only a week -- he has loved walking around the city a little after games, seeing the fans and feeling the excitement, letting all that sink in.
Thursday night, he looked up at the city hall building, lit in Indians red and blue, and marveled at what a team can mean to a place. "It's been incredible," he says. "I can only imagine what the atmosphere was like last year during the World Series. And hopefully what it will be like this year."
He's a funny, humble young man, 24 years old, who takes none of this for granted. When he got his first hit, he said he was going to send the ball to his parents. He talks to them most days. Right now, he's still unknown enough to walk alongside most fans unnoticed. He crossed a street, making a break for it during a lull in traffic, avoiding the cars.
"That's the last thing I need right now," he jokes, laughing.
He walked down East 4th Street, a packed strip of cool restaurants and bars, passing street musicians and dozens of people wearing Indians jerseys. Lights strung over the street made the block feel a bit like a movie set. He looks forward to getting to know the city, and these places, to learn about the Cleveland.
Everything feels new and exciting.
"It seems like a very cool city," he says.
Fans in their favorite self-referencing Cleveland T-shirt -- this city loves shirts about itself -- poured out into the bars surrounding the stadium. It was joyous, Indians gear everywhere, with a feeling in the streets that will mirror what is coming back to Cleveland in just a few weeks. Nothing makes a big city feel united like an important win, and Allen walked right past the celebration. After another block or so, he showed his hotel key to a security guard, who let him pass. It took him about 10 minutes to go from the clubhouse, a place where his team celebrated an accomplishment that only one ballclub in history has ever matched, to his temporary home. He'll make the walk again in the morning.
These are the first steps of the rest of his life, during a time he won't ever forget.