BOSTON -- The Indians want to use these last two months of the season to see how Fausto Carmona adapts to the closer's role. The rookie is off to a rough start. Carmona, who replaced the departed Bob Wickman as closer earlier this month, saw his first save opportunity pulverized with one swing of the bat from David Ortiz, as the Indians fell, 9-8, to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Monday.
Ortiz's three-run home run to dead center field erased what had been an 8-6 Indians lead and sent a humbled Carmona to the visiting clubhouse with a newfound understanding of the stress of his job. "He's a strong-minded kid," manager Eric Wedge said of Carmona. "He's going to figure it out." The learning curve has been a steep one for Carmona, who gave up four runs in the ninth to decide the Tribe's fate against the Mariners a day earlier. When he arrived at Fenway on Monday afternoon, the 22-year-old was asked for his first impressions of the historic park. "After I pitch here, I'll tell you if I like it or don't like it," he said with a smile. After the blown save, the smile was gone, as Carmona sat motionless at his locker. He declined comment, but it's safe to assume he's not the ballpark's biggest fan. Right-handed starter Paul Byrd might be in the same camp, given the outing he endured. Struggling to get any bite on his slider for the second start in a row, he gave up six runs on nine hits in just four innings of work, including a two-run homer from Manny Ramirez and solo shots from Ortiz and Wily Mo Pena. "This game was not lost in the ninth inning," Byrd said. "It as lost in the first four innings." Byrd, though, was not in a position to get a loss, because his offense was working in his favor. The Indians beat up on David Wells, fresh off the disabled list, for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. Casey Blake hit a solo shot in the first inning and a clutch three-run blast with two outs in the fifth. His second homer gave the Indians an 8-6 lead. And though this home run derby of a ballgame made that two-run advantage look tenuous, the Indians managed to hold on with effective outings from relievers Jason Davis and Rafael Betancourt. "Jason was outstanding, as well as Betancourt," Wedge said. "But J.D. gave us really good stuff. He gave us every opportunity to win that ballgame." But when the Tribe bats went quiet against right-hander Kyle Snyder, who was originally scheduled to start Tuesday's game but instead pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, it became Carmona's job to ensure the opportunity did not go to waste. Carmona began the season in Triple-A Buffalo as the Tribe's designated spot starter. He joined the bullpen in May and dominated with a sinking 97-mph fastball. Moving toward the back of the bullpen and pitching in the eighth inning didn't seem to faze him one bit. Veteran relievers will tell you, though, that it's a whole different ballgame in the ninth. And it's an especially different ballgame when it's the ninth inning in front of a sold-out crowd at Fenway. That's the situation Carmona found himself in for his first chance at a save. "This is as tough a park as any," Byrd said. "To have your first [appearance] in a new role here, it doesn't get any tougher." Carmona didn't make it any easier on himself by giving up a leadoff single to No. 9 hitter Alex Cora. And when he walked leadoff hitter Kevin Youkilis, he was really in trouble, because now the heart of the Red Sox's order -- Ortiz and Ramirez -- were looming. "You're talking about probably the best 1-2 punch in the game," Wedge said. Once he got Mark Loretta to popout, Carmona was set to learn just how powerful that punch can be. Walk Ortiz, and you've got Ramirez up with the tying run on second. Pitch to Ortiz, and you better have your best stuff. Carmona didn't have his best stuff. If anything, he pressed too hard to have it. Looking as if he wanted his 97-mph fastball to come across as 107, Carmona threw two quick balls to Ortiz. "He tried to do a little bit too much," Wedge said. "He doesn't need to do too much. He has good enough stuff, a good enough delivery that he just needs to present the stuff and play catch with [catcher Kelly] Shoppach." Instead, the next catch that was made was by some lucky Fenway fan. Ortiz sent the 2-0 pitch hurtling over the center-field wall, and Red Sox Nation bursted into chants of "MVP! MVP!" that lasted long after the players left the field. And in the quiet of the Indians' clubhouse, it was Carmona, alone and silent, thinking about his first save opportunity gone awry. "He's gonna have tough days up here, particularly in that role," Wedge said. "And, obviously, that is a very special hitter that came up there and got him. He just needs to do a better job working ahead and keeping the hitters on the defense instead of giving them offensive counts."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.