CLEVELAND – In a year that’s been struck by tragedy and tough times, baseball is attempting to provide a resort a few hours at a time for fans and followers across the globe. Out of America’s Pastime can come stories that go beyond the diamond. 

Carlos Carrasco was viewed as an inspiration for anyone who has battled significant illness long before Sunday. “Cookie,” as he’s called, battled chronic myeloid leukemia last year. Carrasco returned to the rubber in September to help the Indians finish out the season out of the bullpen, but on Sunday, he returned to the mound as the Tribe’s third starting pitcher in the rotation. 

He had the stuff of an ace. 

Carrasco could not have been much better, dealing six innings of two-run ball and striking out 10 in the process in Cleveland’s 9-2 win over the Royals in the rubber match of the opening series on Sunday. With the 10 Ks, Cookie put up his 25th outing of 10 or more strikeouts with the Indians, lifting him in a tie for fifth in franchise history with former right-hander and now Cincinnati Red Trevor Bauer. 

“My emotions were really strong today,” Carrasco said. “You guys know, my last start was on May 30 (2019), so I’ve just waited for this moment. I feel pretty good. Keeping my emotions down and just thinking about the way that I got to pitch. It was the key today because just getting here to the stadium today, I was so happy to get back to the rotation.” 

While it was a milestone for Carrasco, his manager noted how composed Cookie kept himself. 

“I actually couldn’t and I don’t mean that disrespectfully,” Francona said when asked if he noticed from Carrasco that this start meant more after what he’s been through. “He looked to me like he was just taking the ball to go win and I mean that as a compliment. I don’t mean ‘ho-hum.’ I just mean that I think he was very professional about it.”

While the Indians clubhouse is socially distanced, Carrasco’s story still resonates with everyone in an impactful way. 

“I was a big fan – and still am a big fan of Cookie – since I was in the minors,” Franmil Reyes said. “Having the opportunity of being there and clapping the hands for him, it made me really excited to be part of the return for Cookie. Seeing him there doing that great job that he did today, it makes me feel happy for him especially when he comes from a tough year that he had last year.” 

“I thought he established his fastball early,” Francona said. “When he does that, off of that comes the offspeed, and it really gave them a hard time. That was really good to see.” 

Carrasco said he was most pleased with his changeup and curveball in the outing. 

“In my last start (intrasquad game), I found my command really good, and today it was even better,” Carrasco said. He noted that facing a different team caused him to be more aggressive. 

In the big picture, Cookie completed a weekend of nearly perfect starting pitching from the top three in the Indians rotation. Just how good was it? The Tribe’s trio of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carrasco combined for 19 innings pitched, 13 hits allowed, two walks, 30 strikeouts and a 1.89 ERA. 

“We’ve got a good rotation,” Carrasco said. “You guys know we like to strike out a lot of people. I like to strike out a lot of people too. That’s what happened today. I just needed to command my pitches. When I have those pitches working, it’s really good.”

Sunday was better than just really good. It was everything that baseball and beyond is about, as Carrasco wrote a new chapter. While he won’t ever forget the adversity he’s overcome, he’s ready to put it in the rearview mirror and help the Indians on their quest for a title.

Photo: Dave Richard/USA Today Sports

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