Carmona's job: Make Boston's hitters uncomfortable
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox began the American League Championship Series with victories over the Cleveland Indians in the two most important categories. The first was on the scoreboard, and the second was in the psychological trenches where playoff baseball games are often won and lost.
Ortiz and Ramirez destroyed the Indians. They were not retired on the evening, combining to reach base 10 of 10 times. Ortiz went 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored and was hit by a pitch. Ramirez went 2-for-2 with two runs, three walks and three RBIs. They enjoyed the kind of night that great hitters live for. But worse than their success was the ease in which they conducted their business. Their uniforms were clean, their attitudes soaring. They styled.
You know, when you're talking about a team like Boston, they're going to make you come in. They're to make you work for it. They're not going to chase. You've got to prove that you can be in the zone before they even think about expanding a little bit.
--Indians manager Eric Wedge
Sabathia did not move the feet of the Sox hitters. He did not change their eye level. He didn't pound them inside, even though he possesses an overpowering fastball. He did not make them fear the location of his fastball. He didn't give the hitters something to think about. Instead, he stayed away to right-handed hitters for most of the night and didn't trust himself to beat Ortiz inside, even though Sabathia can be deadly on left-handed hitters.After the game, Sabathia said he wasn't aggressive enough with the Red Sox's lineup, an understatement considering the impunity with which Boston hitters were allowed to stand in the batter's box. Sabathia, intimidating in size but not in presence or approach Friday, pitched as if he were fearful of contact. He did not attack the strike zone or Red Sox hitters, preferring to stay away from the heart of the order. "You know, when you're talking about a team like Boston, they're going to make you come in," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "They're going to make you work for it. They're not going to chase. You've got to prove that you can be in the zone before they even think about expanding a little bit. It was just one of those nights where C.C. just wasn't able to get on track." Sabathia said he did not want to throw only fastballs, for that would be playing to the Red Sox's advantage. He said he needed to mix things up. Of course, his lack of variety was precisely the problem. He has a 97-mph fastball, and he didn't use it. He certainly did not use it inside to the biggest hitters in the Sox's lineup. Not that comfort is a new thing to hitters during this era of offense. That pitchers cannot and won't pitch effectively is an old lament but with real consequences. Carmona does not have to throw at either hitter, but he does need to move them off the plate, make them less comfortable. Ortiz and Ramirez laughed their way around the bases Friday. "We are professional hitters," Ortiz said. "We know what we're doing. I don't think it's new to see what me and Manny are doing. We keep it simple." They made facing Sabathia look easy, mostly because Sabathia did not fight them back with his stuff. It is one thing to be a finesse pitcher who can't pitch inside because he cannot throw the ball by a hitter. Sabathia isn't in that category. He's a power guy who flinched in this first confrontation. With one out in the first, Sabathia got ahead of Ortiz 0-2, fastballs away, but wouldn't come inside and Ortiz lined a fastball away for a single. In the third, he threw two great fastballs to start off Ramirez, both for strikes. The second, a 96-mph cut fastball, dove low and across the plate at the knees. Ahead in the count, Sabathia abandoned his fastball again, bounced two breaking balls and missed low with two sliders. Ramirez walked without Sabathia challenging him again with a fastball. By the end of the inning, a 1-1 game was 5-1, Boston. At that moment, two conclusions seemed apparent. Either Sabathia stopped believing in his stuff on this night, or he allowed his past history -- Ortiz entered the game hitting .278 with a home run while Ramirez wore him out at a .571 clip -- to take him out of his game. On Saturday, Carmona needs to take the edge back. Thus far in October, Ortiz and Ramirez have been dancing around the bases. Carmona will be the one to decide if the music stops.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.
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