"Joe just picked all of us up," said appreciative first baseman Ryan Garko, whose sloppy misplay of a routine ground ball with one out opened the floodgates. "We all owe him a big thank you. Joe's done such a good job for us all year, but tonight he had to get like six outs. We got a great individual effort out of him."
And from Carmona as well. The 23-year-old Dominican right-hander continued his fantastic July by smothering the Texas offense, allowing just three hits and three walks over eight scoreless innings.
Employing his wicked sinker to devastating effect, Carmona (12-4) had the Rangers chopping up their lawn with 14 ground-ball outs. Those that didn't beat the ball into the ground often missed it altogether. Carmona struck out seven -- one off his career high -- mostly with his deceptive changeup.
"Carmona was incredible," Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He shut us down. He threw so many strikes. If he's got stuff like that, we're not going to score many runs."
He did, and they didn't.
For eight innings, the Rangers managed to get only one runner beyond first base. Carmona picked off one with a nifty throw to first, and erased three others by inducing double-play grounders. Armed with a 3-0 lead, provided when Josh Barfield doubled and scored in the fifth and Travis Hafner slugged a two-run homer in the sixth off Brandon McCarthy (4-7), Carmona appeared untouchable.
But Carmona, who is 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four July starts, had thrown 105 pitches by the time he finished the eighth with back-to-back strikeouts of Wilkerson and Ramon Vazquez. Tempting as it was to let the youngster go after his second career shutout, Indians manager Eric Wedge opted for caution.
"Every part of my being wanted to send him back out there, but we have to look at the big picture," Wedge said. "He had thrown 105 pitches, and we're not going to push him. We send him back out there to get through it, and suddenly he's up to 115 or 120 pitches and that could affect him next time out, maybe his next couple of starts.
"We need to keep him strong and take care of him."
Carmona said he was prepared to pitch the ninth, but did not complain when told Borowski would finish things up. Within minutes, however, that decision looked as if it would blow up in Wedge's face.
Borowski retired Travis Metcalf on a routine grounder for the first out of the ninth. Desi Relaford then rolled a weak grounder to first, another routine out, or so it seemed. But Garko scooped an instant too soon, dropping the ball as he stepped on the bag. Relaford streaked by safely and the Rangers had their first baserunner since the fifth inning.
"I just missed it," Garko said.
Jerry Hairston followed with a single to left, then Teixeira whacked a bouncer up the middle, a run-scoring single that spoiled the shutout. The Rangers trailed 3-1, and suddenly had the potential go-ahead run at the plate.
Marlon Byrd pulled a sharp grounder down the third-base line, but Casey Blake snagged it and appeared ready to turn a game-ending double play. He stepped on third for the second out, but his throw to first sailed high, pulling Garko off the bag and into a minor collision with Byrd. The Rangers had two on with two out. Then they loaded the bases when Borowski walked Frank Catalanotto on four pitches.
"You have to deal with those things," Borowski said. "But the heat doesn't help too much, because you start gasping for breath."
Sighs of relief from the Cleveland dugout were nearly audible when Gerald Laird hit what appeared to be another routine grounder to shortstop Mike Rouse, who was giving Jhonny Peralta a day off. But they turned to gasps of horror when Rouse muffed the ball for a run-scoring error that kept the bases loaded and drew the Rangers within 3-2.
"What thoughts weren't going through my mind," Wedge muttered. "The irony was we had played great defense in the infield the whole game."
A closer of lesser fortitude might have lost it at that point, but not Borowski. He jumped ahead of Wilkerson with two quick strikes before the count evened at 2-2. Then he struck Wilkerson out on a reverse slider or "gyroball."
"I didn't mean to do it, but it happened," Borowski said. "It's a mistake pitch, but it can be the best pitch in baseball when you throw one."
"To finish that off, that's a lot of toughness right there," Wedge said. "Joe bowed his neck and got it done."
It was the second night in a row that Borowski had entered with a three-run lead in the ninth, only to give up at least one score and have to face the potential tying or winning run at the plate. He stared down Sammy Sosa as the potential tying run Thursday, striking the slugger out to preserve a 7-5 victory.
"None of my saves are uninteresting," Borowski admitted. "I definitely take it to extremes. But if you get it done, that's all that matters.
"Don't get me wrong -- I'd like a simple 1-2-3 inning. But I often find myself out there in interesting situations."
This one, of course, was hardly of Borowski's making. He laughed when asked if any of his infielders had apologized for their misplays.
"After we got out of it, there was some joking around," he said. "But they're trying their best out there and those things happen. I'm just glad we were able to get out of it with a win, instead of one of those 'What if?' kind of things."
With the victory, the Indians moved back within one game of first-place Detroit in the AL Central. Cleveland sends left-hander Cliff Lee to the mound Saturday night, continuing their pursuit of what would be the Indians' first four-game sweep at Texas in franchise history.