Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco vowed that he would return to the mound when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in June.
That triumphant moment came only three months later Sunday when the 32-year-old right-hander from Venezuela came out of the bullpen on Sunday to a standing ovation in the seventh inning of a road game at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Players in both dugouts got on their feet while the fans chanted his nickname, "Coo-kie! Coo-kie! Coo-kie!"
“This is a group of brothers,'' Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis told MLB.com. "This is a special group. Yes, we’re competing against each other day in and day out, but this is something bigger than baseball. When it comes down to it, we’re standing together as one and we are there for him and to support him."
Carrasco looked strong and healthy with a fastball that sizzled at 96 miles per hour as he allowed one run on two hits in an inning of work. He threw 19 pitches in an eventual 8-2 loss to the Rays.
"Getting back to the mound, it was great the way they supported me from day one until now,'' he told reporters afterward. "It's been unbelievable. It was a great moment."
Carrasco received an outpouring of support from Indians fans and the organization as well as many opposing teams during his three months of treatment.
He had an emotional moment in July during the All-Star Game at Cleveland's home stadium when he drew an ovation after walking on the field during MLB's "Stand Up to Cancer" salute during the game.
"Baseball is family, man,'' he told SportsTime Ohio. "I got a lot of people behind to support me."
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His most important supporter has been his wife, Karelis, with whom he has five children.
"From Day One, my wife has been telling me every day, 'This is nothing for you,''' Carrasco told SportsTime Ohio. "I think that's the key to the whole thing. The way my wife was talking to me, I completely forget everything that I have."
Carrasco, who has been one of the American League's top starting pitchers in recent years, was struggling with a 4.98 earned run average through 12 games when he was placed on the injured list in June for a "blood condition" that turned out to be leukemia.
After returning to the mound, he announced Tuesday that he is starting "Punchout Cancer with Cookie," in which he will donate $200 for every strikeout this month to childhood cancer research at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
"I want to remind families that there is always hope,'' he wrote on Twitter.