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Carmona's gem no surprise

Carmona's gem no surprise

CLEVELAND -- We have reached the point where people can safely stop being surprised at how good Fausto Carmona actually is.

If his 12-4 record going into Wednesday night wasn't enough, the gem he threw at the Boston Red Sox, who came in as the best team in baseball, should have sealed the deal. Carmona beat Josh Beckett, 1-0, in a top-shelf pitchers' duel, and you don't do that unless you've already a found a toehold on elite status.

It was a splendid performance, a no-hitter for five innings that was ended only by Coco Crisp's infield single. The Red Sox didn't get a ball out of the infield for the first four innings. Four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, changeup; they all worked for Carmona in a truly dominant outing.

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For eight shutout innings, Carmona gave up only four singles, and two of those were infield hits. Only three of his 24 outs were outfield putouts. He walked two and struck out six. It was nothing less than a brilliant performance against the best possible opposition.

The only problem Carmona has had is a heavily dated public perception that goes back to the implosion that occurred when he had a brief trial as Cleveland's closer just less than one year ago. He lost four games in one week, including consecutive blown saves against these same Red Sox. The Indians had just traded veteran closer Bob Wickman to Atlanta, and Carmona's flameout received no shortage of exposure.

But before that, in a setup role, he had been very good.

"People tend to forget that he was one of the best setup men in the American League for five or six weeks," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was dominant."

And after a brief demotion to Triple-A to get back to starters' innings, Carmona came back last September and pitched capably as a starter. Now he's pitching terrifically as a starter.

But to baseball people who'd seen his talent, the aberration was the rough spell last summer, not the sustained excellence that Carmona is producing now. What is going on now is not a fluke but the result of a large dose of talent.

One of those baseball people is Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who has seen Carmona at his worst and at his best.

"What got lost in translation, I don't know by who or why, was that he had a great year," Francona said. "He just had two weeks from hell. And we were right in the middle of it, fortunately. But he had a good year, and he's a good pitcher.

"Now he's gotten into a role where he can go out every five days and do his stuff. He was making some transitions last year, out of need for them, and like a lot of pitchers, hit a bump in the road.

"And then all of a sudden, this year you look up and see what he's doing, and everybody's shocked. But he's been good. He's been more consistent with his arm slot, and he's throwing to both sides of the plate a little bit better, but he's always had good stuff."

Now, with two starters struggling, the 23-year-old Carmona has not only pitched superbly, he has been a mainstay, a lifesaver in the Cleveland rotation. It is a remarkable story, given the highly public way in which he came up short last season. It is a tribute not only to his talent but his toughness.

"This didn't happen overnight," Wedge said. "There were a number of different things he had to work on, and he has.

"And he has had to utilize his experience as well. You can't say enough about the young man. He knew what he needed to do to make the necessary adjustments. He never wavered. He's a very confident young man, and he knows what he's capable of doing. If you want to talk about a guy who has been as important to us as anybody, it's Fausto Carmona."

What Carmona is capable of doing right now is shutting out the Boston Red Sox for eight innings and going 13-4.

His postgame remarks were translated by first-base coach Luis Rivera, but there was something like a universal language present when the question "Were you looking forward to facing the Red Sox?" emerged.

"Si, si," Carmona said, with feeling.

And that told you something. This game doesn't erase those blown saves against Boston last season, but it certainly pushes them deep into the background.

Carmona, through Rivera, insisted that due credit be given to catcher Victor Martinez and second baseman Josh Barfield for key defensive plays, and to left fielder Franklin Gutierrez for supplying the game's only run with a third-inning homer.

That was suitably generous. But the centerpiece of this contest was Carmona pitching a brilliant game. He has 13 victories now, so he has a long list from which to choose, but Carmona said he particularly liked this one.

"I liked it because it was a close game and because it was against a team I struggled against last year," he said.

This was a game with a message. That blowup as a closer last season? That didn't define Carmona's work because he has not allowed it to stand. The current Fausto Carmona reality is 13-4 overall and, in particular, eight innings of shutout ball against Boston in a tense and dramatic pitching classic.

The real surprise now on a night when Carmona pitches? That would happen if he lost.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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