July 23, 2014

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Indians, Westbrook zero in on first place

DETROIT — There was good news and bad news for the Indians coming out of Comerica Park on Thursday.
The bad news was that a day after it showed signs of life for the first time in an extended spell, Cleveland’s offense went back into hibernation.
The good news was that it didn’t matter — not with the new-and-improved Jake Westbrook on the mound.
Thanks to a strong performance from Westbrook and a late strike from Indians hitters, Cleveland turned back Detroit 3-1 in 10 innings to take the series and leave town with a 2½-game lead on the Tigers in the Central Division standings.
The Indians scored three times in the 10th inning off flame-throwing right-hander Joel Zumaya, sweating out another late-game performance from closer Joe Borowski to get the series-clinching decision.
Kenny Lofton’s two-out hit scored the first run of the game in the 10th with Chris Gomez’s two-run single driving in two more, but no one deserved more credit for the victory than Westbrook — even if he didn’t get one himself.
“As a starting pitcher you want to go out and put up zeroes whether you’re getting 10 runs or zero runs,” said Westbrook, who blanked the vaunted Detroit lineup on five hits through eight innings. “We won the ballgame. That was big.
“Even though you have nothing to show for it, who cares? It’s a team game. The offense stepped up late in the game.”
Westbrook scuffled upon leaving the disabled list following a month-long stay, but has been on the mark as of late, allowing more than two earned runs just once in his last six starts — three of them wins.
A one-day reprieve from their offensive funk was all the Indians were rewarded, with Nate Robertson matching Westbrook’s efficiency by shutting out Cleveland on four hits through 8 2/3 innings.
It was Robertson’s best performance of the year in 23 starts, with the left-hander working his third scoreless outing and his longest of the season.
“Robertson was as good as we’ve ever seen him,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “He’s been good against us before but today he took it to another level. Jake was right there with him against that lineup, in their backyard.”
There were few scoring opportunities awarded to either team while the starting pitchers were on the mound, but the Tigers had more against Westbrook, who worked out of a handful of jams to keep the scoreless tie intact.
The Tigers had two runners aboard in four of the eight innings Westbrook worked, but just one advanced to third base.
“I felt like I beared down and made pitches when I had to,” Westbrook said.
One of those occasions arrived in the eighth inning, when Detroit had a runner on second with two outs and the dangerous Magglio Ordonez coming to the plate.
Cleveland chose to walk Ordonez to get to Carlos Guillen, who has blistered Indians pitching since joining the Tigers in 2004 (.345 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 50 games through Wednesday), and it paid off when Guillen grounded to first to end the threat.
“Magglio is in a different hemisphere,” Wedge said of the probable American League MVP, who is hitting .353 with 24 homers and 113 RBIs in 124 games. “There’s not too many times you’re going to walk someone to get to Carlos Guillen.”
With Robertson out of the way, the Indians took aim at Zumaya, who was making his second appearance since leaving the disabled list.
Zumaya got the final out of the ninth but allowed a leadoff double to Victor Martinez in the 10th that was a sign of things to come.
The Indians loaded the bases before Zumaya struck out Franklin Gutierrez for the second out, but Lofton pinch hit for Jason Michaels and sent a hard grounder up the middle on the first pitch he saw to score pinch runner Josh Barfield.
Gomez followed Lofton with a liner up the middle that put the Indians in front 3-0.
“Coming off the bench and pinch hitting is not easy,” Lofton said. “I just wanted to get something I could put a bat on and see what happened.”
Borowski allowed a run in the bottom of the inning and had the tying runs on second and third before he got Ivan Rodriguez to fly to right to end the game.
With an offense that has been lagging since the break, taking two of three from the defending AL champions was far from a guarantee for the first-place Indians.
“These types of series, they really test you,” Wedge said. “I’m really pleased with how our guys competed.”
Now, it’s on to Kansas City with a chance to extend their division lead against the last-place Royals.
“Right now we just need to look at getting wins,” Lofton said. “That’s the bottom line at this point.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.