CLEVELAND — Though they will be in the most hostile of territories when the American League Division Series reconvenes tonight in New York for Game 3, the Indians will be in the most enviable of situations.
After overcoming an uncharacteristically poor outing from ace No. 1 Corey Kluber to take a 2-0 series lead Friday night at Progressive Field, Cleveland has the luxury of employing ace No. 2 Carlos Carrasco with the opportunity to sweep the Yankees.
Carrasco is no third starter, pitching like an ace all season in notching an AL-high 18 wins and posting a 3.29 ERA, while ranking fifth in the league with 226 strikeouts and reaching 200 innings for the first time in his career.
And if possible for an opposing pitcher, Carrasco has fond memories of facing the Yankees in New York. He is 3-1 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts at Yankee Stadium — one of them a brilliant outing in 2014 that resurrected his career as a starting pitcher.
Carrasco has pitched better on the road in general this year, posting an 11-2 record and 2.65 ERA in 17 starts.
“Like you say, yes, 11-2 on the road. And home is 6-4, 7-4, something like that. It’s still the same baseball,” Carrasco said. “I have success on the road, so I don’t know what I can say about that, but I just want to take advantage of that. And I’m going to pitch here in New York. Then a couple years ago, I’d been pitching here, my last couple starts, they’ve been good. But (tonight) I think is a really important game and I’m just going to go with my best stuff.”
Carrasco’s rise to stardom did not come quickly. He failed early as a starter, was sent to the bullpen and fought his way back into the rotation. All along, the Indians stayed patient.
“We can’t be an organization that pulls a plug on guys too quick,” Francona said. “And we don’t have a crystal ball either. But with an arm like that, if you run out of patience too quickly, he’s going to be doing this for another team. Another organization. We can’t have that happen.
“And it wasn’t just patience. I mean, it was a lot of hard work. I know (former Indians bullpen coach and current Rays manager) Kevin Cash isn’t here anymore, but he did a lot with Carrasco, sitting out in that bullpen, as far as mentality and embracing what’s coming. So I think there’s a lot of people that deserve credit. Carlos is right at the top of that list. But it’s a good story for us because he’s been one of the better pitchers in the game.”
With their season on the line, the Yanks will turn to right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74 ERA 30 starts), an All-Star in 2014 who flashed his former top-shelf ability during the regular season, but has battled injuries and inconsistency.
He is 6-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 12 second-half starts, including a dominant outing in his final regular-season appearance.
“He’s been a little inconsistent this year, mostly in the first half,” Francona said. “Second half, he’s been much better and his last start was really good.”
Francona said Tanaka has plenty of power but can also turn to a “split, change, whatever you want to call it. But at times it can be a huge weapon for him.”
“So we’re going to have to, one, you gauge how a guy is throwing. Is he pounding the zone with it? Is it in and out of the zone? And then either hit a mistake or lay off the ones that are down and out of the zone. The strike-to-ball is the hardest pitch of all because he’s got so much good deception with it, it’s easy to say lay off, but it’s another thing when it’s actually happening.”
“We need him to pitch like he pitched the other day, where he was — I think he had 15 strikeouts in the game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Tanaka. “This is a team that’s going to grind out at-bats, and he needs to grind out at-bats with them.”
Unlike Tanaka, Carrasco has the luxury of entering the night with his team owning a 2-0 lead and riding momentum from a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Game 2.
“We’re up two games, but … it’s the same baseball,” Carrasco said. “I think it’s going to be the same game, the same guys. We’re just going to go out there, no pressure, nothing about that. So just go in there and pitch the way that I’ve been doing the whole year.”
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