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James Karinchak meltdown spoils Cleveland series opener against Rays

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It was right there, and then it wasn’t

Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Cleveland scored four runs, their starter went six innings and allowed just one run. Their first two relievers managed to hold the Rays to one run over two innings.

Then James Karinchak happened.

Without the aid of sticky substances, Cleveland’s closer-but-sometimes-not-closer has looked like a pedestrian pitcher at times, none more so than tonight. He threw 16 fastballs, four were swung at, three were put into play, and one was hammered at 107.2 mph. Over his last four outings, including tonight, he has just one strikeout to two walks and now three earned runs.

Technically, Cleveland could still have won after he botched the top of the ninth by serving up a lead-off home run to Yandy Díaz (long may he reign) and back-to-back baserunners to let the Rays tie the game at four. But the offense failed to score in the bottom half of the frame, and they couldn’t overcome a lone run given up in the top of the 10th by Bryan Shaw. The end result was a 5-4 loss, their third one-run loss in the last week. It never feels any better.

Franmil Reyes almost saved them in the bottom of the 10th, but he swung just under a meatball, and his reaction afterward tells you he knew it. He wanted to crush it, but it ricocheted harmlessly to the backstop instead as he yelled at himself in frustration.

Anyway, this game wasn’t all as miserable as this recap makes it sound so far, but this is the price I pay waiting until after the game to start the recap.

Franmil did get a hold of one in the third inning, taking Rays starter Luis Patiño 406 feet at 109.9 mph — the hardest-hit ball of the game. And wouldn’t you know it, the day that Merritt Rohlfing wrote about Franmil Reyes adjusting to sliders, his lone hit of the game was off a slider. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect one, but he could easily have misread it as a fastball and swung through it anyway.

But boy he sure didn’t.

The home run also directly followed José Ramírez being intentionally walked with first base open. That’s something teams are going to have to learn to stop doing eventually, but I sort of hope they don’t. Is there some kind of mental edge that a player can get watching the guy in front of them walked because — at least in this player’s mind — the other team isn’t afraid of them? That seems to be what Franmil has tapped into the past couple of times José has been intentionally walked and I’m here for it.

The rest of the offense was mostly quiet, save for a hit here or there and loud outs from Amed Rosario and Harold Ramirez. Bobby Bradley looked overmatched at the plate though, going 0-for-4 but still drawing a walk. He’s now riding a four-game hitless streak and he hasn’t homered since July 9 against the Royals.

Before the bullpen drove the whole damn thing into a river, Cal Quantrill looked like a legitimate starter out there for six innings. And following Eli Morgan’s solid outing Wednesday night, that’s now two games in a row where this cobbled-together rotation has looked like something real.

Quantrill still walked three and had to work out of a tough situation in the first inning, but he limited hard contact even as his four-seamer came in a tick lower than it normally does. The Rays did not hit a single ball off of him over 100 mph tonight, and the guy threw 94 pitches. And he faced Yandy Díaz — multiple times!

Cleveland will try again tomorrow, and presumably the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that.