I ... what? How? No? The baseball?
This game will go down in the history books as a 6-4 loss on a crisp Friday evening in Chicago, but it was one of the ugliest displays the Guardians have put on in recent memory. And for anyone who has watched this Cleveland defense for the last three months — that’s saying something.
The tale of this game can only be told by connecting the dots of the mistakes that were made. The first came in the bottom of the second when a struggling Yoán Moncada stepped up to the plate.
To this point, Cleveland starter J.C. Mejia had been cruising. He got through the first inning unscathed; a hit-by-pitch being his only runner allowed that was quickly erased with a fly ball in foul territory. No strikeouts for Mejia in the first, but a quick inning by his standards. The offense gifted him a pair of runs with a Franmil Reyes bases-loaded single, and he fended off the dreaded response runs. Can’t ask for much more.
Against Moncada, though, Mejia threw a pitch that admittedly wasn’t great. A sinker up and over the plate, right in just about any major-leaguer’s wheelhouse, no matter how much they’re struggling. Moncada hit it hard, but not quite enough to be for a home run. It should have died on the warning track in the glove of a charging outfielder. In a normal world, Mejia escapes with a lesson learned but nothing else.
But in this case, with this defense, in this economy, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson collided and the ball bounced over the fence for a home run. You can find fault in both of them — Zimmer should have called for it, sure. But Johnson should have brought out his inner passive driver and not blown through the stop sign just because he technically had right of way. He probably should have peaked at some point and saw that Zimmer was going for a ball that was closer to the center-field than right.
The end result was a nightmare in slow motion.
Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson crash into each other going for this ball.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 31, 2021
It ends up going over the fence for a homer pic.twitter.com/AL0IlVxGy6
To Mejia’s credit, that goof didn’t completely derail him. He issued a walk two batters later, but he got out of the inning with only the “home run” allowed. Mejia would run into some trouble later on and ultimately finish allowing three earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. His patented middle-inning collapse occurred in the fourth when he allowed another Moncada hit followed by an Andrew Vaughn Walk and two more balls in play to get the runners home.
José Ramírez added an RBI single in the top of the fifth to tie the game at three and give all of Cleveland a little bit of false hope.
Enter Blake Parker.
Actually, re-enter J.C. Mejia, because he started the fifth, but was only able to get one out before he allowed a Cesar Hernandez single and back-to-back walks to load the bases. Parker then entered and struck out Moncada before walking home the go-ahead run and closing the book on Mejia’s night.
In the top of the eighth, Franmil Reyes murdered a ball and was able to admire it a bit before rounding the bases. Majestic. Beautiful. Large. Franmil.
Everything came crashing down after that.
James Karinchak, who hasn’t looked sharp since Major League Baseball stopped letting him dip his hand in a vat of tar before every outing, allowed a Leury Garcia single to start the inning. At least that’s what the box score says. In reality, Amed Rosario should have fielded an easy ground ball and got the first out. He didn’t, and Garcia got on base. Roberto Pérez also should have caught an outside pitch that Karinchak threw in the next at-bat. He didn’t, and Garcia advanced to second. Pérez should have made a better throw to try and catch Garcia as he attempted to take second. He didn’t, and he advanced to third.
Then Karinchak, tired of the Avengers meddling in his plans of single-handedly blowing the game, put on his yellow armor and declared he’d do it himself. He walked catcher Zack Collins, then served a meatball four-seamer up to Tim Anderson who promptly hit it back out to right field to score Garcia and Collins.
Hernandez attempted a bunt (perhaps as one final homage to his former team), which was also dubbed a single but only happened because José Ramírez made an inaccurate throw from the third-base side of the infield. That loaded the bases with Jose Abreu up to bat.
Now, no matter what anyone thinks of James Karinchak — good or bad — I don’t think anyone would suggest he’d throw a baseball at someone’s head on purpose. At the very least, not with the bases loaded.
Unfortunately, a 96 mph four-seamer got away from Karinchak and hit the 2020 MVP right in the earhole. The replay even showed the ripple it caused on Abreu’s face as it impacted his helmet. It was a terrifying moment made worse by an incompetent manager. When Abreu was hit, Roberto Pérez immediately motioned for the White Sox dugout to come out and help him. Tony LaRussa apparently took that as a threat and decided to charge (read: hobble) at Pérez and yell at him for ... trying to help?
Keep in mind, that while LaRussa has decided to charge the catcher and get in his face about virtually nothing, his own player is on the ground writhing in pain.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa confronts Roberto Pérez on the field after James Karinchak accidentally hits José Abreu on the helmet with a pitch.— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) July 31, 2021
In the aftermath, Abreu embraces Karinchak on his way to first base. pic.twitter.com/287unE8YoP
This caused a minor scuffle that was sorted rather quickly. Karinchak and Abreu hugged going down the first-base line, Franmil Reyes made sure everyone stayed in line. It was fine and could have been avoided if LaRussa wasn’t in a constant state of half-comatose, blissfully unaware of his surroundings.
Franmil Reyes said after the game that if he or anyone else gets hit tomorrow it’s “personal.” He and the rest of the Guardians team know that Abreu is good and respects him, and Abreu knows that as well. The subtext is clearly that if LaRussa has a problem with the team, he’s going to have a problem with Franmil.
Franmil Reyes, with a message to the White Sox: "If any of our players get hit, this is personal. I take no shit on fucking purpose. We’re not gonna try to hit anybody on purpose. So me, personally, I’m not taking anything on purpose. It’s a big problem if they hit me."— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) July 31, 2021
Now, normally I would not advocate for throwing at a player, but I would give anything to watch LaRussa try something tomorrow. Bet you $10 that Reyes would catch the ball and eat it on the spot before he charges the mound, never breaking eye contact with a terrified Tony LaRussa.
Anyway, at that point, the White Sox were up, 6-4, and that’s where the game would end. Karinchak was taken out after hitting Abreu and Nick Wittgren got three straight strikeouts to end the eighth. The Guardians went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth and that was that.
Tomorrow should be fun.