While bingeing through House of Cards this past weekend, the 2007 Cleveland Indians came to my mind, unbidden. One of the characters had a dog by the name of Fausto. Now, this isn’t a rare name really, but it’s certainly ear-catching and the more literary among us might think of a Goethe story or Marlowe play. Not Tribe fans, though. Nope, all of a sudden a flood of memories swept back to me about the now named Roberto Hernandez Heredia, once the future ace of a new generation of Indians domination and suddenly, like magic, a man past his prime.
Fausto Carmona though. What a name. It’s so unique, it was almost like it couldn’t have been real. And he was so amazing. Besides being right-handed, he was Dallas Keuchel before Keuchel even had a chin whisp. Oddly enough, they were even teammates in 2015. That power sinker he had, it was indomitable when he was on. Screaming into the middle of the plate at 94, 95 miles an hour before suddenly getting yanked toward the earth as though a black hole opened up below, and all the batter can do is swing and hope it doesn’t make his bat vibrate too much. I often wondered how many times Fausto made a guy trot back to the bench shaking his hands absently, to get the stinging out. Nothing is better described than a truly great sinker -- like he’s throwing bowling balls out there. He and Justin Masterson were men before their time on the Indians, when the infield defense featured Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, or Luis Valbuena and their most famous play was the Booted Ball Bonanza.
When it came out that Fausto was Roberto, and everything was a lie, it was almost comical how quickly the world collapsed around the pitcher. After ending the 2007 season with a 148 ERA+, you just knew this was a beginning, not an end. That’s not how life works. Turns out, that was the last time he’d be even remotely above average, the next being 2010 when he was unaccountably an All-Star with a 105 ERA+ and a walk rate at a good for him 8.2%. But man, the magic he spun in 2007 made the next year such a tease. Starting the season with a seven-inning, one run outing to salvage the opening season against the Chicago White Sox, and nobody cared about the four walks because it all worked out. But that was the harbinger, not a silly outlier. He would end up getting into the seventh inning 10 times in 2008, completing that inning four times, and he threw one complete game. The rehash could continue, for instance, the 8/17 K/BB ratio in his first three games which is properly formatted, but the bad memories of long, ugly at-bats ending in a walk from a too low sinker or a hard struck BP fastball down the middle are just too much to deal with.
The world would have been so different if he’d just been what he was in 2007, in 2008. If the top two had been him repeating his previous year along with Cliff Lee on his way to the best pitched season Tribe fans have seen in a generation, and had CC Sabathia had been given time to round into what turned out to be his apex season, there’s no telling what that team could have done in the playoffs. And they would have gotten there, even with the decrepification of Travis Hafner’s shoulder. The only thing more wasted than Lee’s season was Grady Sizemore’s 131 wRC+, 7.4 fWAR, 33 home run campaign. He was, like Lee and CC it turned out, peaking. Fausto wasn’t an ace but what we saw in 2007, 3.4 fWAR and an incredible 64% ground ball rate, that and the other two guys at their best is a murderer’s row. It would have been amazing.
How does a guy just forget how to throw strikes like that, though? He walked SO MANY batters the next couple years as an Indian. Alright, so he turned up to spring training in 2008 with a little extra mass. These things happen, maybe he was trying to go the Tim Lincecum route and eat four or five cheeseburgers to keep his weight up for the long season, but forgot he was already a big guy. Plus he aged like four years in the space of a few hours. That can be discombobulating.
It blows my mind how just that realization seemed to push him instantly from one side of his prime to the other and become garbage. Perhaps this sudden stepping through a time warp of perception completely ruined his pitching motion. Perhaps he just got paid and got lazy. But that's no fun to assume. I like to think that reassuming his identity was like Stephan Urquel turning back to Steve Urkel. For a time, he was the cool guy, apart from the life he escaped from on Hispaniola where he was a nerd who couldn't compete in the real world. But turning back to Hernandez made him get caught in old bad habits while the real Fausto resumed his life as a swaggering mack daddy. Absurd? Sure. But the human mind is an amazing thing.
He also started on Opening Day. Of course, in the last five years, so did Justin Masterson. And Jake Westbrook in 2010. That was a weird one. Was that start his career peak? Perhaps, that or a mess of a playoff appearance. The Faustberto Carmandez saga was a fun, weird one, though. It would have been nice if it didn’t happen since it set things back about three years. But now that the rotation is full of fireballing monster men, we can look back and grin faintly. And you know, the other two pitchers from that era gave us Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley. Two stars and a story is good enough for me.