Guardians reliever James Karinchak gets back on track with huge outing against Yankees

Ryan Lewis
Akron Beacon Journal
Cleveland Guardians relief pitcher James Karinchak reacts after striking out Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodriguez with two runners on base to end the eighth inning Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Seattle.

CLEVELAND — James Karinchak needed a rebound outing, and he earned it in a big way. Mike Zunino, then, needed his catcher's gear to protect him from the ensuing celebration.

Karinchak entered Monday night's game against the New York Yankees in the eighth inning with the Guardians clinging to a 3-2 lead. After a few rough appearances to begin the season — including giving up a three-run home run on Opening Day — he had a disappointing 9.00 ERA as he walked to the mound.

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He then gave up a lead-off triple to Gleyber Torres on a ball that center fielder Myles Straw dove for but missed, putting the potential tying run 90 feet away with the heart of the Yankees lineup due up. He had no room for error and would need to face reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton.

Karinchak retired Judge on a pop-out. He struck out Rizzo. And he struck out Stanton to escape the inning. This was the version of Karinchak the Guardians need in the bullpen.

"Those are the moments you live for," Karinchak said.

What followed was a celebration that only Karinchak could pull off. He yelled and flexed his arms below his waist like a bodybuilder. He pounded his chest. He threw up his arms. He skipped sideways. And then he chest-bumped Zunino with so much vigor that the catcher's mark went flying.

Normally the catcher's gear is for the pitcher's pitches, not the pitcher himself. Karinchak's celebrations, though, don't exactly follow the status quo, especially this one. Zunino's mask didn't even stand a chance.

"I'm happy I had gear on, that's for sure," Zunino said, laughing. "But, no, I love it. Guys that play with emotion, guys that pitch with emotion, the key is to balance it. But, I mean, that's well deserved. That was a huge outing there, and going through that part of the lineup and getting those outs was really the difference in the game."

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Beyond simply winning Monday's game, which likely doesn't happen without that inning from Karinchak, it was sign that the shut-down reliever the Guardians need is still there. The Guardians boasted one of baseball's top five bullpens in 2022, and Karinchak was a much-needed piece to that puzzle.

For a moment, Karinchak had a 9.00 ERA and was seemingly on the verge of blowing another lead. Then he breezed through the heart of the Yankees lineup, displaying the type of hit-and-miss stuff that led to some video-game level numbers when he was called up to the majors a few years ago.

More than anything, that positive sign is what the Guardians could take away from Monday's win.

“He doesn’t have a shortage of stuff,” Zunino said. “Once he trusts it and starts mixing everything like he’s been doing, I think he’ll get in a groove and pick up some huge innings for us.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at Read more about the Guardians at Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis .