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Another ace trumped again

Wedge at a loss over Carmona's troubles

Fausto Carmona (2 innings, 6 hits, 7 runs) can't hide his frustration as his start in Game 6 falls apart in the first inning. Fausto Carmona (2 innings, 6 hits, 7 runs) can't hide his frustration as his start in Game 6 falls apart in the first inning. (BILL GREENE/GLOBE STAFF)

No bluff was needed. The Indians had a pair of aces and didn't care the eyes across the table knew it. They were that confident of their playoff hand.

But if ever a pair of deuces could beat a pair of aces, it has been in this American League Championship Series. That's how truly disappointing the exploits of celebrated 19-game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona have been, much to the dismay of Cleveland manager Eric Wedge.

Then again, it may have been much to his shock. It was hard to accurately read Wedge's emotion after his club had been trounced, 12-2, last night to force a seventh game in this series.

The fact that the Indians tonight will be relying on 30-year-old Jake Westbrook may not be disconcerting to them (after all, he pitched 6 2/3 solid innings in a Game 3 win in Cleveland), but certainly how it got to this point has to be. Their aces were duds and Wedge fought hard to explain just how it is that Carmona struggled so terribly last night.

"Well, some of the same of what we saw before in this series," said Wedge. "He still didn't do a very good job of working ahead [in the count]."

It was a reference to Carmona's command of the strike zone, which barely existed, as he walked David Ortiz following a pair of infield hits to load the bases with nobody out in the first inning. The fact that he nearly got out of the jam was long forgotten when J.D. Drew unloaded on a 3-and-1 pitch for a grand slam that set in motion the romp. The fact that he left in the third inning will be hard to forget, for as Carmona trudged to the dugout, numbers came into view that are hard to digest for a team that boasted baseball's most productive 1-2 pitching punch.

Combined, Sabathia and Carmona have started four games in this series. They haven't pitched past the fourth inning, totaling a mere 16 1/3 innings. They have given up 27 hits and 23 runs, and most outrageous is the fact that their walks (16) equal their strikeouts. All three of the losses in this series for Cleveland have come in games their aces started.

So errant was Carmona's control that against 15 batters in two-plus innings, he threw as many balls (30) as Curt Schilling did in seven innings against 26 batters.

That was hard for Wedge to comprehend, but he did have an explanation for a curious decision he made in the bottom of the third. Carmona's control again got him in trouble - walks to Manny Ramírez and Mike Lowell - then Drew came through with an RBI single to make it 5-1. The game was slipping away; Wedge knew that and only one thought ran through the Cleveland dugout.

"Just trying to work through that inning. Trying to control damage," said the Cleveland manager, who had called to get righthander Tom Mastny throwing in the second. The youngster had pitched well all series. So, in fact, had everyone in the bullpen, except for Rafael Perez. So imagine the surprise when in an effort to keep the game close, Wedge called for Perez.

"We're trying to give them a different look with a lefthander," said Wedge, though he knew that Jason Varitek would turn and bat righthanded. Perez won that battle, but the next four batters - Jacoby Ellsbury (single), Julio Lugo (double), Dustin Pedroia (walk), and Kevin Youkilis (single) - all reached base and as Fenway Park rocked, the beleaguered Indians reliever hung his head. Perez had not limited the damage, in much the way he had not done so in Games 2 and 5. In all, Perez has now faced 13 batters and retired just three.

There had been the agony of Game 2 when he yielded consecutive home runs to Ramírez and Lowell, and the misery of Game 5 when three of the four batters he faced scored. But this effort? It was hardly what Wedge had wanted, even if the manager conceded there had been a little bit of wishful thinking.

"We were also trying to get Perez going a little bit."

Instead, it got the Indians into a situation where their No. 3 starter, the unheralded Westbrook, is under the greatest pressure. He began the year with a rehab stint in the minor leagues, pitching in Lake County and Buffalo, and what he did during the regular season (6-9, 4.32 ERA) hardly would have led anyone to believe the Indians' season would be riding on his right arm.

But it is.

"I think each one has been bigger and bigger," said Westbrook, when asked about the pressure of his Game 3 start in the ALDS vs. New York and the Game 3 effort in Cleveland against Boston. "[But tonight] is a Game 7, so you can't get much bigger than that."

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