CLEVELAND – Carlos Carrasco looked toward home plate and clutched the ball in his right hand before firing a 95 mph fastball on the game's first pitch.
It was a beginning and an ending.
Carrasco's comeback from cancer is complete.
Starting for the first time since he was diagnosed with leukemia last year, Carrasco struck out 10 in six-plus innings and José Ramírez homered twice as Cleveland clobbered the Kansas City Royals 9-2 on Sunday to win two of three in the delayed season-opening series.
Carrasco's journey carried him through energy-sapping medical treatments and periods of doubt over whether he would ever pitch again.
But he managed to return to Cleveland's bullpen in September and got back in the rotation this year. The sight of him standing tall on the mound in Sunday's summer sunshine surely warmed everyone who has followed his feel-good return.
“I’ve just waited for this moment today,” he said. "I feel pretty good, man. Keeping my emotions down and just thinking about the way I’m gonna pitch was the key because just getting here to the stadium this morning, I was so happy to getting back to the rotation.”
Ramírez hit a three-run homer left-handed in the fourth and added a solo shot from the right side in the sixth for the Indians, who finally put some solid swings together against Kansas City's bullpen.
With his rotation currently thin due to pitchers testing positive for COVID-19, Royals manager Mike Matheny started reliever Ronald Bolaños (0-1), who gave up two runs in the first and took the loss.
Carrasco couldn't have imagined what lie ahead for him and his family when he took the mound on May 30, 2019, against the Chicago White Sox. Only days later, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a blood disorder that threatened his life.
But the affable 33-year-old said a positive mindset has helped him get back doing what he loves most.
“I went through a lot,” he said. “But for me, I never put anything really bad in my mind. It’s always something good. And that’s what I did from Day 1 until now.”
Carrasco was in command of the Royals from the outset. He allowed two runs and five hits before he was lifted after allowing a leadoff double in the seventh.
It's been a remarkable road back for Carrasco, whose personal battle with the disease bonded his teammates and rallied Indians fans around the pitcher known as “Cookie.”
Indians manager Terry Francona appreciated Carrasco's start and the right-hander's matter-of-fact approach.
“I don’t mean that disrespectfully,” Francona said. “It 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 mean he was very professional about it.”
Carrasco retired the first 10 Royals before giving up a one-out double to Adalberto Mondesi in the fourth. But by then, the Indians had scored four times — helped by two Kansas City errors — before Ramírez connected for Cleveland's first homer of the season to make it 7-1.
Unable to get any two-out hits in the first two games, the Indians finally connected in the first with Franmil Reyes and Domingo Santana delivering RBI singles. Cleveland came in 0 for 18 with two outs in the series.
The inning was helped by a throwing error by third baseman Erick Mejia and Bolanos' wild pitch.
All-Star Francisco Lindor, who started the season 1 for 10, had an RBI double and Ramírez scored four times for Cleveland.
SWINGS & MISSES
The Royals struck out 15 times Sunday and 40 in the series against Cleveland's top three starters. Matheny knows his team must make better contact going forward.
“We’ve had these conversations a lot about who was ahead, who was behind (in the count)," he said. “You’re seeing on both sides a lot of chasing outside the zone, right? They were making pitches. When they wanted to expand the zone, they expanded it. They really did a nice job of executing in the strike zone and below.
Indians left-hander Oliver Pérez made his first appearance this season, the 18th of his career. He's now the longest-tenured Mexican-born player in history. He came in tied with Fernando Valenzuela and Jorge De La Rosa.
Baseball's new automatic-runner rule triggered some playful social media sparring by former Indians teammates Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer.
Clevinger slammed the rule following the Indians' 3-2 loss on Saturday, saying, “This isn't travel ball. I’m not happy about it." The always outspoken Bauer, who was traded to Cincinnati by Cleveland last year, shot back at his friend on Twitter.
“But don’t both sides get a chance with a runner at second base?” Bauer asked his buddy.
Francona understands MLB's reasoning behind the rule, and said it's up to teams to adapt.
“You’re handed whatever rules or whatever challenges you’re dealt and you do the best you can,” he said.
Royals: LHP MIke Montgomery starts the opener of a four-game series in Detroit.
Indians: Stay at home for three more games against the Chicago White Sox, with Aaron Civale starting for the Indians.