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Guardians learn the hard way that all three outs are important

Three outs in an inning, have you seen this? Have you heard about this?

Cleveland Guardians v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Rays scored six runs in their win over the Guardians today. Every one of them came with two outs, and all but one — the final dagger in the bottom of the eighth — was an extra-base hit. That ended up being the difference as Cleveland’s comeback attempt failed and they lost, 6-4.

Honestly, the game could have been a lot worse. Corey Kluber came out absolutely on fire, and with some of the wildest horizontal movement you’ll ever see from a starting pitcher. His curveball, as Baseball Savant categorizes it, was moving like a slider out there, and caught more than one batter looking as it started well in the right-handed batter’s box and moved back in to back-door helpless lefties.

It wasn’t the typical swing-and-miss, overpowering stuff we saw in Kluber’s Cleveland heyday, either. He has completely reinvented himself since he became a journeyman, and today he dominated with 23 called strikes to just 10 swinging strikes. The combination of his breaking ball going one way and sinker going the other simply left batters frozen in place once they fell behind in the count.

Guardians batters did eventually get to Kluber, though, once they started attacking him earlier in the count and his curveball stopped moving so damn much.

In the sixth inning, down 5-1, José Ramírez caught a curveball that didn’t curve and hit it for a double, followed by an Owen Miller hit-by-pitch that set up Andrés Giménez for a three-run home run to bring them within one. Giménez only saw two pitches before he belted a sinker at 104.8 mph over the outfield wall.

The comeback attempt look on that point, with the score 5-4 — still in favor of the Rays but within reach. Unfortunately, both lineups stayed silent until Brett Phillips came up to bat with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. He singled home Taylor Walls from third, and the Guardians were unable to mount a single run in top of the ninth, let alone three.

They weren’t without chances, though. After Alex Call struck out to lead off the ninth, Myles Straw singled, Kwan reached base via a fielder’s choice, and Amed Rosario pushed him to second. With two on and two outs, Ramírez was up to bat. The Guardians had their perfect situation set up. The kind of thing every kid dreams about. If this was in October, it had the potential to be an all-time moment.

... luckily it wasn’t because José struck out on three straight high fastballs, swinging at the last two to end the game. Ramírez was one of only two Guardians batters to record multiple hits (Giménez being the other) but he needed three for the win. It didn’t happen.

Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit, and Kwan’s double in the fifth extended his hitting streak to 13 games. In that span, which started back on July 14, he has 22 hits, five doubles, one home run, and he’s scored 13 times. It’s fair to say he has settled into a major-league hitter, and if that’s a guy who routinely rolls with a 118 wRC+, I think he’s in for a long career, hopefully in Cleveland.

If this was Zach Plesac's last start in a Cleveland uniform, it went how most of them have gone this season. He allowed five earned runs in five innings, struck out seven, and look anywhere between lost and locked in depending on which at-bat it was.

It would have been nice to see Plesac put on a show for potential suitors, but any team already interested in wouldn’t be agahst at what they witnessed at Tropicana Field today. He still induced his fair share of swings and misses (17), but too many balls were put into play (14), and frequently hit hard. If you trade for him, that’s what you’re going to get most nights — count on five or six innings and just hope they’re good.

The Guardians sit at 51-49 after the loss, 1.5 games back of the Twins, who play the Padres later tonight.