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James Karinchak’s personal death spiral sinks Guardians in Opening Day loss to Mariners

The umps didn’t help matters much, either

Cleveland Guardians v. Seattle Mariners Photo by Jane Gershovich/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Of course James Karinchak got the first pitch clock violation in Cleveland Guardians history. Because of course he did.

Cleveland didn’t only lose because Karinchak waddled on the mound too long and seemed to be rattled from that moment on until he gave up a three-run home run to Ty France — the offense could have scored more runs, of course. But his rough outing was what ultimately sealed the deal (and perhaps prevented the Guards from playing even further into Friday morning).

Karinchak faced four batters in the eighth inning of a 0-0 game and didn’t look in control against any of them. I’ve seen plenty of bullpen meltdowns before, but this one felt different. It’s the first time the pitch clock has felt like it had a tangible effect on the game. I’ll be curious to hear if Karinchak says anything about it postgame because he just looked unusually uncomfortable out there once the stress levels got higher. And for a guy who is normally fidgety and uncomfortable-looking on the mound, it takes a lot to stick out.

Seeing the crowd begin to roar after a pitch clock violation was a new thing too, and I actually kind of dug it. Obviously, it wasn’t great in this case, because it negatively impacted the team that I stayed up until 12 a.m. to watch win a baseball game, but it seems like another way for the tension in late-inning games to ratchet up. As with everything with these new rules, it’ll take time before we know what a “normal” scenario feels like now.

He could have also been rattled by a ball four call that was clearly tipped into the glove of Mike Zunino but unchallengeable by rule. A lot went wrong for Karinchak tonight.

The end result of all of this, after a walk and a hit-by-pitch, was a towering France home run. Well, it’s hard to tell if it was towering or if the shaky, unpredictable camera crew in Seattle made it seem that way. But that’s a story for another day, because what in the world were they filming out there? Why was almost every shot from behind the pitcher at a different angle? Maybe they needed more time in spring training to iron things out.

Back on topic: Tonight was a pitcher’s duel and everyone on offense looked a little rusty.

It’s hard to get too down on anyone on Opening Day, though, let alone when they are facing an absolutely locked-in Luis Castillo. Nobody seemed to be able to square up his fastballs consistently; the hardest-hit ball of the night was a ground out from the mighty Josh Bell. Along with Bell, only José Ramírez and Will Brennan added 100-mph hits off of him.

Speaking of Brennan, the second-year outfielder did not look overmatched at all in his first Opening Day start. He had another hard hit that, thankfully, hit Castillo in the hair and not squarely in the head. The ball bounced harmlessly away and allowed him to register his first of the season. If today was any indication, it’ll be the first of many.

And once Castillo was mercifully out of the game, all the Mariners did was bring in a guy throwing some of the tightest, nastiest sliders I honestly think I’ve ever seen. The late break on Matt Brash’s breaking balls seems like it would make him absolutely impossible to hit when he is on like he was tonight.

José got straight up put in the spin cycle at one point. It brings me no joy to share this footage, but it has to be shown just how nasty Brash is.

A brief rally in the ninth inning provided some hope for the Guardians — a glimpse of the Guardiac Kids we grew to know and love last year — as Amed Rosario and Ramírez had back-to-back two-out hits, down 3-0. The rally failed when Bell grounded out to first base for the final out. Still, the never-say-die attitude they displayed last year was already present in Game 1. That’s encouraging. The hits will fall eventually, and they won’t face an ace every single night.

On the mound, it wasn’t Shane Bieber’s most dominant outing, but the results were there. He threw a nice mix of cutters, sliders, and four-seamers, with the latter topping out at 91.9 mph and averaging 90.9. That’s probably just what Bieber is now, and despite several hard hits and only three strikeouts, he worked out of multiple jams and finished his six innings of work without an earned run.

A big part of Bieber’s success tonight came from Josh Naylor’s outstanding defense at first base. The big man made snags on line drives, almost made a diving play, and just generally looked like an athlete at first base.

Not to harp too much on a negative after one game, but just reacting to what happened tonight — it wasn’t an impressive debut for Zunino. Behind the plate, he looked stiff and unable to stop any of Bieber’s curveballs in the dirt. At the plate, he looked like a guy who only played 36 games last year and is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. That’s weirdly specific, I know, but it’s just my scouting report.

Maybe part of Zunino’s struggles (or a lot of them) is that he missed so much time last year and he needs time to readjust. Totally fair. It could also be that this is the first of 162 games and if he homers tomorrow and blocks some balls in the dirt we’ll forget about all this by the time Sunday rolls around.

Baseball is good like that.