© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are one victory away from going back to the World Series because of solid starts from Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd, and the terrific work of their bullpen.
What's missing is a command performance from one of their two 19-game winners.
Fausto Carmona will get one last chance when he pitches against the Boston Red Sox at 8:23 p.m. ET on Saturday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Carmona will be trying to do what he and C.C. Sabathia have been unable to do so far in the series: give the Indians the kind of start that they regularly delivered during the regular season. Between the two of them, they had the highest combined victory total of any two pitchers at the top of a rotation in the Major Leagues.
The Indians, after Sabathia lost to Josh Beckett for a second time on Thursday night, aren't at a must-win stage yet. They still have a 3-2 lead in the ALCS and need just one more victory to go back to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
But they would obviously love to have Carmona wrap it up on Saturday and not have everything riding on a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday. He'll be trying to bounce back from a rough outing in Game 2.
"I'm going to try hard to stay aggressive, the same way I always pitch," Carmona said. "Whatever happened last time, I've forgotten about it. It's going to be a new start, and I'm looking forward to it. I learned that I need to pitch, but I'm going to continue to do the same thing that I did during the regular season. Nothing is going to change."
Carmona and Sabathia, after each won 19 games in the regular season, are a combined 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in their three starts in the ALCS. On the plus side, the Indians did win the one game that Carmona started, but it was because of the work of the bullpen after he exited the game.
"Because it takes 162 games, a full season, to qualify for the playoffs, and then we got through the AL Division Series. At some point in time or another, I think the best teams have different people to step forward and step up," pitching coach Carl Willis said. "We've had that happen throughout the course of the regular season, and now it's happened to this point of the postseason -- just from a pitching perspective, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd and the performances that they have given us.
"I think we feel strongly about all of our starters, and we have talked about that since Spring Training. And we feel that if one falters, we have someone qualified the next day to pick the team up. Hopefully, that will be the case here."
Carmona, having trouble throwing strikes, lasted just four-plus innings in Game 2 at Fenway Park, allowing four runs on four hits and walking five. The Indians were leading, 5-3, when he walked off the mound, and they ended up winning, 13-6, in 11 innings.
The third inning caused Carmona the most trouble. He took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third, but Coco Crisp walked to lead off the inning and stole second. A one-out walk to Dustin Pedroia and a two-out infield single by David Ortiz loaded the bases, then Carmona walked Manny Ramirez and gave up a two-run single to Mike Lowell.
The word is that Carmona fell into the common trap of trying to be "too fine." It's a worn-out baseball cliché, but it goes back to trying to make too perfect of a pitch rather than just going right after hitters with a pitcher's best stuff.
"He has such a great arm and such great movement on his pitches," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "You know, sometimes when he does try to be a little bit too fine, the ball is going to run off the plate a little bit. What he needs to do is be aggressive with these guys, stay on the plate, run it off when he needs to, but be able to work it both ways."
Wedge said he didn't see Carmona get intimidated by the big stage of Fenway Park or going up against Curt Schilling, who will again be the opposing pitcher on Saturday night.
"No, I didn't sense that," Wedge said. "I really feel like he's done a great job of learning from all of his experiences in the past -- this year and last year. He's a very strong young man that understands what he's been through and understands what he needs to do to handle things more appropriately for him, and he's done that all year."
Carmona had been on a roll prior to his Game 2 start against the Red Sox. He was 9-4 with a Major League-best 2.26 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break, including 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA in his last five starts of the regular season.
He carried that over into his first playoff start against the New York Yankees, holding them to one run on three hits in nine innings. He left that one with the game tied at 1, and the Indians won in 11 innings.
Carmona needs to get back to that level, which means he's pounding the strike zone with his sinker. He led the AL with 3.28 ground balls for every fly ball, and that's when he's at his best -- getting the opposition to pound the ball into the ground and letting his defense do the work for him.
"I've got a lot of faith in myself and the club that we're going to play a nice game and a good game tomorrow," Carmona said. "Hopefully, we come out of this game victorious, and I'm looking forward for the next."