Carmona dominant in playoff debut
Starter limits powerful Yankees to three hits in nine innings
CLEVELAND -- At some point in what should be a long and successful career for Fausto Carmona, the Cleveland right-hander probably will win 20 games in a single season. Carmona also will find himself in serious consideration for the American League Cy Young Award with the great stuff he possesses during almost every trip to the mound.
Actually, both of those accomplishments came close to happening during the 2007 season, when Carmona won 19 times for the Indians in his first year as a starter.
But as of the opening weekend of October 2007, Carmona's excellence now will be defined by his first career playoff start. Facing the Yankees, arguably the best offense in the AL, in Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday night at Jacobs Field, Carmona made one mistake, which resulted in a Melky Cabrera home run, over nine innings and gave his team a chance to win despite numerous missed opportunities from the offense.
It was an example of sheer dominance from the sinkerball pitcher. It was a coming-of-age moment for the relatively untested 23-year-old. Strangely enough, it was exactly what his teammates expected.
"That doesn't really impress us because he's been doing it all year," said Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore with a smile of Carmona, who yielded just three total hits and induced 18 groundball outs and two double plays in his highly significant no-decision.
"He was aggressive and he was working down in the zone," Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez added. "When he's working down in the zone, he's tough to hit."
If Friday's overall body of work serves as Carmona's official foray into baseball stardom, then one particular ninth-inning matchup became the moment when this dream became a reality for the Dominican Republic native. With the game tied at 1, two outs and Alex Rodriguez at the plate, Bobby Abreu swiped second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Mariano Rivera has been commonly considered the most prolific closer in playoff history, so even a bloop single from the favorite to win the AL MVP could have ruined the night for Carmona. The count was 2-2, first base was open, and Carmona was approaching 110 pitches.
Left-handed-hitting Hideki Matsui was on-deck, and left-handed reliever Rafael Perez, who eventually would earn his first playoff victory, was ready in the bullpen. But Cleveland manager Eric Wedge stayed with Carmona.
Rodriguez fouled off a pitch, took a pitch outside the zone to work the count full, and then fouled off two more. Carmona proceeded to fire a sinker inside and under the hands of Rodriguez, who swung through the nasty offering for a third strike.
Game and set to Carmona, on pitch No. 113, setting off a crowd eruption only to be surpassed by Travis Hafner's game-winning single in the 11th.
"I thought I battled long and hard," said Rodriguez of his last at-bat. "Against a guy like that, you want to battle and foul pitches off and hopefully he makes a mistake over the plate. To his credit, he just kept making good pitches."
"It was a great matchup," Martinez added. "Carmona ended up winning the battle."
Wedge and Indians pitching coach Carl Willis have given a great deal of credit to Martinez for the guidance he has provided Carmona in the young righty's highly successful starting rotation debut. After Carmona shut down the Yankees on Friday, Martinez, in turn, gave all the praise back to his pitcher.
From the time Carmona started warming up in the bullpen before the game, Martinez knew his batterymate was in for a good night. Carmona worked with a consistent release point, according to Martinez, and stayed nice and calm, within himself.
Not exactly the type of demeanor expected in a playoff debut against the Yankees, but then again, Carmona doesn't seem to be anywhere near a normal pitcher.
"His stuff is as good as anybody, maybe the best in the league," said Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko of Carmona. "Veteran guys who are great hitters, they want no part of him."
"Going back through the whole year, the way I've been pitching, I was thinking when I was on the mound like it was just another game," added Carmona, through translator and first-base coach Luis Rivera. "I didn't put any pressure like it was a playoff. I just continued pitching the way I had been pitching the whole year. That's the way I found out I was calm on the mound."
He was so calm that Carmona didn't even let a swarm of insects that appeared in the eighth inning bother him when he took the mound in the ninth. Yankees rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain couldn't exactly make the same claim.
"Fausto didn't flinch. He didn't blink. That says a lot about him," Garko said. "You've got to give him credit. There was some adversity thrown at him. That might have been my favorite part of the game. He didn't step off the mound once."
Friday appears to be Carmona's one and only Division Series start, even if the Indians are unable to close it out in New York. But if Cleveland picks up one win at Yankee Stadium, then Carmona will be right back on the mound at the outset of the American League Championship Series.
Expect a feeling of calm exhibited by Carmona, a lot of ground balls from the opposition, and a chance for Cleveland to win. That's certainly what Carmona's teammates believe they will get every time he throws the baseball.
"It's great that he did it on this stage because he deserves a lot of recognition," Garko said.
"To do what he did against that lineup," added Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake of Carmona, "it's almost indescribable."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.