December 20, 2014

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Closerphobia: Indians’ Borowski gets job done, but not without making everyone sweat

CLEVELAND — Symptoms can vary but usually include: sweaty palms, an irregular heartbeat and mild indigestion.
Joe Borowski’s appearances can be downright sickening for Indians fans.
Although Cleveland’s closer led the league with a career-high 45 saves, very few were of the 1-2-3 variety for the AL Central champions. More times than not, Borowski put a runner — or two — on base before finally getting three outs.
“No, he doesn’t come in and strike out the world,” starting pitcher Paul Byrd said. “But he comes in and gets the job done.”
And that’s the bottom line for the Indians, who will likely have to endure more high-wire high jinks from Borowski if they plan to slip past the New York Yankees in a first-round playoff series that begins Thursday.
In a season filled with unlikely comeback stories for Cleveland, Borowski’s is as compelling as any.
The 36-year-old right-hander, who saved 36 games for Florida last season, was signed to a one-year contract in December by Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, whose plan was to have Borowski compete for the closer’s role in spring training with Keith Foulke.
But when Foulke retired in February, Borowski won the job by default. It was a lucky stroke for the guy nicknamed “JoBo,” who had bounced around baseball for 10 years, pitching for both the independent Newark Bears and Monterrey of the Mexican League before signing with the Chicago Cubs in 2000.
Now, he’s the guy Indians manager Eric Wedge turns to with the game on the line.
“He’s so tough, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Wedge said. “He’s just a very tough individual and exemplifies that day in and day out.”
Borowski, who went 45-of-53 in save tries, has tested Wedge’s patience since April, but never as much as last week in Seattle, when he blew back-to-back saves for the first time all season.
Undaunted, he was back on the mound a few days later in Kansas City and closed the regular season by getting consecutive saves as the Indians finished 96-66 to tie Boston for the best record in the majors.
Those were the Royals. Up next are the Yankees, who have battered Borowski.
At Yankee Stadium on April 19, he came into a non-save situation to protect a 6-2 lead and retired the first two batters. Then, he got burned in the Bronx.
New York, down to its last strike three times, got to 6-5 before Borowski grooved a pitch to Alex Rodriguez, who hit a three-run homer to cap an 8-6 win.
In all, players on the Yankees’ current roster have combined for a .379 batting average against Borowski (11-for-29) with four homers and 14 RBIs. For his career, Borowski is 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA in seven appearances against New York.
Wedge couldn’t care less.
“Joe’s our closer,” he said. “There’s no other way to say it. He’s our guy. He’s been doing it for us all year. We have confidence that he’ll continue to do it. For me, it’s a black-or-white thing. You either get it done or you don’t.”
On the day after getting rocked in Ruth’s House, Borowski picked up a save against Tampa Bay. So it goes for the life of a closer, who must forget the bad outings or risk having a bunch of them.
“It took me a long time (to learn that),” he said. “That’s why my career was so up and down. I never understood. I always let things fester. I started to worry about things I couldn’t control.
“If I went out there and had a bad outing, I’d worry about, ‘Will they send me down? What do they think about that pitch? If I walk this guy I’m in trouble.’ That’s the mental part of the game that people don’t realize.”
While Borowski’s 45 saves (second-most in club history behind Jose Mesa’s 46 in 1995) are impressive, his 4-5 record and 5.07 ERA don’t exactly conjure up images of a dominant closer like Mariano Rivera.
Still, Borowski’s content with the success he’s had in a season he couldn’t have imagined.
“Statistically, it’s probably the worst season I’ve had, but I’ve also had the highest number of saves,” he said. “If I was a selfish type of person I’d be upset about it. The main point is, we got to where we wanted to be.
“The most important thing is you have the respect of your teammates and the coaches. They know what you can do when you go out there.”
Borowski’s only postseason experience came in 2003 with the Cubs. He earned a save in the playoffs against Atlanta and went 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in three games against Florida in the NLCS.
He’ll draw on that experience as he stares at catcher Victor Martinez’s target, rocks into his windup and tries to get Derek Jeter to swing and miss — or hit it to one of the guys behind him.
October baseball can make strong men weak.
“You have to get yourself under control because you are on stage,” Borowski said. “The lights seem brighter, the crowd seems louder. The first time I was in the playoffs it was like the first time I was going to pitch in my career.
“I had butterflies, but right after that first pitch it goes right back to, you’ve done it your whole life.”

Carmona named pitcher of month

Indians starter Fausto Carmona was named the American League’s pitcher of the month, winning all five of his September starts, while posting a 1.78 ERA over the span.
Carmona, who finished the regular season with a 19-8 record and 3.06 ERA, is the Indians’ scheduled starter for Game 2 of the Division Series on Friday.
His rotation mate C.C. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21) finished second in the voting, going 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA in September.
Sabathia will start Game 1 on Thursday.
— Chris Assenheimer

NEXT UP

WHO: Cleveland vs. New York
WHAT: Game 1, American League Division Series
WHEN: Thursday, 6:37 p.m.
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Sabathia (19-7, 3.21 ERA) vs. Wang (19-7, 3.70)
TV/RADIO: TBS; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WKNR 850-AM, WKNR2 1540-AM