CLEVELAND -- The Indians got their first taste of the new automatic runner rule in extra innings on Saturday night, and it didn’t pan out in their favor.
In textbook fashion, the Royals laid down a sacrifice bunt and followed with a sacrifice fly to push the runner across the plate, giving Kansas City a 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th at Progressive Field. That held up as the final score.
A new rule in 2020, each team begins every frame in extra innings with a runner on second base. If that runner scores, it is an unearned run but the pitcher receives the loss if his team can’t respond. That is what happened to rookie reliever James Karinchak on Saturday.
The Indians ran into their first bump in the road in the first inning after starter Mike Clevinger was confident he had struck out Jorge Soler to end the frame. But the first-base umpire ruled Soler had checked his swing, and the inning continued.
Soler and Salvador Perez then hit back-to-back homers to put the Royals up, 2-0. Clevinger rebounded to toss seven strong frames, allowing just those two runs on four hits with six strikeouts.
“It’s very frustrating,” Clevinger said. “In my opinion, he swung. But they’re human back there, too. … Early in my career, it was easy to let that steamroll into other innings, but it was a quick wipe.”
The score was knotted, 2-2 entering the ninth inning, and the Indians called on Karinchak. The rookie didn’t let the high-leverage situation rattle him, getting a strikeout and two fly outs to end the half-inning. But after the Indians left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Karinchak came back out for the 10th with an automatic runner starting at second base.
Strategy of the 10th
The Royals executed as expected, with a sacrifice bunt by Erick Mejia and a sacrifice fly by Maikel Franco. And even though he was charged with the loss, Karinchak tossed two promising, hitless innings while demonstrating just how valuable a weapon he will become in the back end of the bullpen when he is in command of the strike zone.
“I thought he was tremendous,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He came in pumping strikes. For me, that's probably the best guy to pitch when there's a runner on second, an open base, and you can let his stuff play. He just left a breaking ball up to Franco that he hit for the sac fly. He was really good.”
In the bottom of the 10th, the Indians sent pinch-runner Greg Allen to second base and their first batter, Bradley Zimmer, didn’t show bunt. After Zimmer was hit by a pitch, César Hernández showed bunt on the first pitch he saw, but swung throughout the rest of his plate appearance, which resulted in a strikeout.
“So, ‘We're a hit away from winning the game,’ was our thinking,” Francona said. “We were OK starting out to bunt, but if you're bunting into an out -- that first baseman was so far in that that's really difficult to convert on something like that.”
The club recorded just one hit after the third inning. Lindor has gotten off to a 1-for-9 start to the season, with three strikeouts.
“For my part, I definitely have to make an adjustment,” Lindor said. “I’ve probably swung at five strikes in nine at-bats. It’s on me. We shouldn’t have lost this game today. We had plenty of opportunities with guys on base today and didn’t come through. I put a lot of this loss on me.”
The Indians’ emotions were hot off the loss, but all seemed to agree that the new extra-inning rule threw a wrench into their usual extra-inning affairs.
“This isn’t travel ball. This isn’t Perfect Game,” Clevinger said. “You know how hard it is to get a runner on second base off the back end of any bullpen, how incredibly hard that is? And now all of a sudden you just get a guy on second base with a guy like Karinchak on the mound.
“I’m not happy about it. I’m sure when other teams face the situation and this happens to them, you’re going to get similar reactions.”