I’m not saying it’s right, but were I raised on a dirt floor in the Dominican Republic and found I could throw a baseball a little, and that seemed like more fun than, say, working a tobacco farm for a few pesos a day, I’d change my name to Doris Day and wear a wedding gown for a shot at professional ball.
That was Yahoo Sports‘ Tim Brown, talking about Roberto Hernandez Heredia, formerly known as Fausto Carmona. The Cleveland Indians starting pitcher was arrested Thursday on false identity charges in his native Dominic Republic, where he was playing winter ball in preparation for Spring Training. He was going by Carmona, a 28-year-old. He is in fact Heredia, a 31-year-old.
At first, the news was stunning and conjured up all sorts of questions. ‘Why?’ was recurring. Brown answered that, and then I understood. That Heredia did this was strange, but it made sense: living a lie made playing in the major leagues possible.
What the Indians do in reaction to this odd twist isn’t worth discussing at the moment. That he changed his name isn’t either, though settling on Fausto Carmona is quite cool. That he lied about his age isn’t pertinent either. After all, it’s not as if he’s alone on that front, as Brown documents:
Rafael Furcal, Bartolo Colon, Neifi Perez and [Ramon] Ortiz, among others, were discovered to have lied about their ages. Years later, Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero were found to have shaved a year or two from their birth certificates. In March 2009, MLB investigated at least 40 cases of age irregularities among Dominican Republic prospects.
What happened as a result of his conjured name, however, is worth chronicling. The 6’4″ right-hander was signed in 2000, thought to be 16 years old. He went 17-4 with Lake County, Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate, in 2003, his second year in their farm system. He proceeded to fluctuate from level to level over the next three-plus years, putting up respectable numbers for Akron, Kinston, and Buffalo. The latter was the Indians Triple-A affiliate. He was oh-so close to living the ultimate dream. And no one suspected a thing. To Cleveland and the rest of baseball, h was just a 22-year-old Dominican trying to make it. They had no reason to believe he was a late-blooming 25-year-old.
He made his debut with the Indians in 2006, spending time as both a starter and a reliever. His statistics weren’t pretty, as he had just one win to 10 losses and struggled to a 5.42 ERA. Nothing outstanding was expected from him. He was wild. His pitches were far from polished. Then, in 2007, the 23-year-old man named Carmona came out of nowhere and shocked the baseball world.
He was magnificent. A starter from day one, he played second fiddle to CC Sabathia atop the Cleveland Indians rotation and helped lead the team to the postseason. He surprisingly won 19 of his 32 starts, compiling a 3.06 ERA in doing so. He didn’t strike out many batters, but he used his heavy sinker to consistently frustrate the opposition. His deception was tremendous, and harmless groundballs were constantly hit and hit meekly. He made this go-to pitch look like a fastball out of his windup. A split-second later it wasn’t. Who would have thought he was deceiving in more ways than one.
The New York Yankees, Cleveland’s opponent in the American League Division Series, would have their hands full. Sabathia dominated in Game 1, as the Indians won 12-3, giving Carmona the chance to send their AL East foe to elimination’s brink.
Game 2 was known for the midges that took over Jacobs Field. They, scientifically known as Chironomus plumosus, latched onto Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain, and flustered the big Nebraskan into relinquishing a game-tying run in the eighth inning. They were everywhere, and that the game wasn’t stopped created an uproar. Lost amongst all of this was what made the tie game possible. Swarming bugs weren’t the only reason the Yankees were frustrated.
Carmona, in his first postseason game, dominated. His sinker was masterful, and fastball had enough zip to adequately offset it. Melky Cabrera laced a solo-homer in the third, but that and two singles would be all New York would muster over the nine innings he pitched. Cleveland would win 2-1 in 11 innings and end the series three days later.
In Game 6 of the ensuing series against the Boston Red Sox, Carmona would surrender the infamous “$14 million grand slam” to outfielder J.D. Drew, leading to a Cleveland loss and postseason exit. But, though this was a tough pill to swallow, and though the man now known as Heredia has since had a tumultuous career he, if only for a short while, was feared. Nineteen wins, a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting, and an incredible, albeit woefully under-appreciated performance against New York. To him, it had to be worth the name change, the age-shaving, the deception.
Who knows what will become of Roberto Hernandez Heredia. Last month, the Indians picked up his option for the 2012 season. If they take this shocking news in stride, see if he can bounce back from a trying 2011, and have confidence in the person they never knew existed, Heredia will still be with Cleveland, playing baseball in the major leagues, doing what he loves–what inspired a teenager named Fausto Carmona.