Roberto Hernandez is back in Cleveland. If you are reading this, then you're likely an Indians fan and know who I am referring to, but if not, let's be clear: Mr. Hernandez was "Fausto Carmona" and will always be Fausto to me. I will still refer to him as Fausto, even if it is in nickname form.
Why I like Fausto so much, I really cannot say. He has been anything but reliable since 2006. He has had some of the worst outings I have ever seen out of a starting pitcher. He lied about not only his name, but his age as well, putting the Indians in a tough spot. Yet, I am a huge fan.
Let's look back very quickly on the highlights and lowlights of Fausto's career as an Indian.
In 2006, he was called up to take over the closer role for departing closer Bob Wickman. In one horrid week, Fausto blew three saves, racked up four losses, and was sent back down to AAA. He was later called back up as a starter, finishing the season 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA.
2007 was Fausto's best year. He was a lighting rod for the Central Division Champion Indians, finishing 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA. He also pitched an epic playoff game against the Yankees, but more on that later.
Fausto finished 23rd in MVP voting and fourth in CY Young voting, losing out to teammate CC Sabathia.
In 2008, Carmona came back down to earth. He posted a 8-7 record with a 5.44 ERA. He missed a couple months with an injury and just never found it again.
I remember going to Cleveland for a game that season, early in the year, and watching Fausto throw his pre-game warmups from up close. While watching the incredible movement on his pitches I asked, more to myself than anybody around me "How do you hit that?", to which a gentleman responded "You don't."
The Twins thought otherwise and Fausto was lit up, and given the hook early.
2009 was Fausto's worst season. He went 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA. I don't want to remember this season, and I am sure he doesn't either.
2010 was a strange year for Fausto (then again, weren't they all?). He would go stretches looking unhittable and getting little run support, then look terrible for two or three starts. Yet he did pitch well enough to get his first All-Star appearance, and finished the year with a 13-14 record and a 3.77 ERA.
2011 saw Fausto get the Opening Day nod against the White Sox. Following an incredibly emotional tribute to Tribe legend Bob Feller, Fausto turned in one of the worst starts in Opening Day history, giving up 10 runs in only three innings of work. He never truly recovered and posted a 7-15 record and a 5.25 ERA.
This past offseason saw the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona being detained in his native Dominican Republic for falsifying documents. They showed his real name to be Roberto Hernandez, and his age to be three years older than originally thought.
Mr. Carmona/Hernandez is now back with the Indians, returning yesterday to three birthday cakes from his organization. He threw a bullpen session today, is expected to begin throwing Minor League rehab starts and can rejoin the big club in three weeks.
With such an inconsistent career—numbers-wise and identity-wise—why am I so happy to see Fausto back in Cleveland? Two reasons.
First, I find it amazing that he pitched for parts of eleven seasons—six in the Majors, sometimes at an All-Star level—while kicking back money to the Dominican to keep mouths shut so he could continue his career as a Major League pitcher.
Not only was his livelihood at stake while pitching; his identity was at stake, including his right to be in the United States. Every day. That is a lot of pressure to pitch under for anybody, whether they be 20, 28 or 31 years old.
Second, and more importantly, Fausto gave me possibly my favorite Indians memory of my life.
I am 26, so I remember the great teams of the 90's. I will always love Kenny, Thome, and Albert. Charley Nagy, Jaret Wright, and Dennis Martinez hold a special place in my heart. However, the 2007 Indians team—the one that blew a 3-1 ALCS lead to Boston—was probably my most beloved Indians team of my young life.
I was in college at the time, and pretty much every sports fan knows how strongly allegiances can be in college. Surrounded by people from all over, my Tribe fandom defined me, and that year it elevated me to a die-hard fan of the team most people in Iowa City—yes, I am a Hawkeye—were casually cheering for against the hated Yankees and later the Red Sox.
I was not cheering casually by any means.
The reason I give this backstory, is to get to my favorite Tribe memory: The Midge Game. Game two of the ALDS in Cleveland saw the Yankees and Indians in a great, close game. Instead of giving the whole story, which many of you know, I will just cut to the chase.
While the Yankees were self-destructing and worrying about the bugs, Fausto pitched like the bugs belonged on his face. When he struck out Alex Rodriguez to end the ninth inning and pumped his fist, I was never more exasperated, relieved and pumped up for a Tribe pitcher. Fausto's gutsy performance in that game has always, and likely will always endear him to me.
Fausto seemed truly apologetic yesterday in his press conference. I hope for his sake and the sake of the Indians that he can pitch with some command and movement like he has the capability to do.
It has been a long, strange career for Roberto "Fausto Carmona" Hernandez, and thanks to him getting a second chance—and his true identity back—it isn't over yet.