September 23, 2014

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Jake trumps pair of aces

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
indians 4, red sox 2

Westbrook delivers clutch performance; Tribe up 2-1

CLEVELAND — The Indians entered the American League Championship Series as a slight underdog to the Boston Red Sox, who tied them for the best record in baseball.

Jason Miller/CHRONICLE
Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta forces Boston’s J.D. Drew at second and then throws to first to turn one of the Tribe’s three inning-ending double plays Monday at Jacobs Field.

After beating up Cleveland’s ace C.C. Sabathia to win Game 1 by a lopsided margin, Boston looked like an overwhelming favorite to continue its postseason romp.
Two games later, the complexion of this series has changed dramatically.
Thanks to a quality outing from Jake Westbrook on Monday night that was backed by just enough timely hitting from his offense, the Indians got past the Red Sox 4-2 to slide firmly into the driver’s seat with a 2-1 ALCS lead.
“We got here for a reason,” said Cleveland closer Joe Borowski, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save in two postseason opportunities.
“I think after the second game that guys started to believe we belong here. I think that carried into tonight.”
Westbrook, the only losing pitcher in Cleveland’s ALDS victory over the Yankees, reversed his fortunes at an opportune time for the Indians, who got subpar efforts from their top two pitchers — Sabathia and Fausto Carmona — in the first two ALCS games in Boston.
The right-hander allowed just two runs on seven hits through 6 2/3 innings, with a sparkling effort reduced to a really good one when Jason Varitek hit a two-run homer off him for Boston’s first runs in his final inning of work. 
“It was big,” said Grady Sizemore of Westbrook’s performance. “He came out and threw a good ballgame against a tough lineup. He kept us in the game all night. You can’t ask for anything more.”
“I thought Jake did a good job of working ahead,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge of Westbrook, who threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the first 20 hitters he faced, and 21 of 27 overall. “We needed it. Our bullpen’s been working hard.”
Dealing with Boston’s destructive duo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez much better than Sabathia and Carmona, Westbrook held the vaunted Red Sox lineup in check on four hits through six innings.
He got Ortiz to ground into an inning-ending double play in the first and accomplished the same against Ramirez with runners on first and second and Boston threatening in the sixth. It was two of three inning-ending double plays for Westbrook.
Ortiz and Ramirez, who wreaked havoc on Cleveland pitching at Fenway Park, combined to go 2-for-6 with a hit apiece, but no RBIs.
“One inning can mean the ballgame, especially in the playoffs,” said Westbrook, who allowed five of his six runs in the fifth inning of the loss at New York. “Tonight I mixed it up a little better, worked both sides of the plate and I was able to keep them somewhat off balance and make good pitches when I needed to.
“I came in tonight wanting to get ahead, and I was able to do that, and it showed by the way I pitched.”
Westbrook’s efficiency through six, gave Indians hitters enough time to measure up Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who failed to last through the fifth, allowing four runs on six hits through 4 2/3 innings.
Cleveland got its first offensive contribution from a local hero in Kenny Lofton, who put the Indians in front with a two-run homer that sent the sellout crowd of 44,402 fans at Jacobs Field into a tizzy.
Lofton approached the plate to chants of “Kenny, Kenny, Kenny,” and promptly drove the first pitch he saw from Matsuzaka just over the wall in right-center for a 2-0 lead.
“The fans are pretty excited when I come up to the plate. That’s a good thing for me,” Lofton said. “When the fans are cheering for you, you want to do something. I got lucky.”
Other than the Lofton long ball, Matsuzaka pitched well through the first four innings, allowing just three hits, while striking out five batters. But Cleveland increased the advantage to 4-0 in the fifth, chasing the Japanese right-hander in the process.
A one-out single from Casey Blake preceded a walk from Sizemore, with Blake riding home on a ground-ball single up the middle. Sizemore scored when the next batter, Travis Hafner, beat out a potential double-play ball by a step. 
From there, the Indians placed the game in hands that have been capable all season – their bullpen.
Jensen Lewis relived Westbrook to strike out Dustin Pedroia and prevent any further damage in the seventh before turning it over to Rafael Betancourt, who faced Kevin Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez and retired the side in order.
That set the stage for Borowski in the ninth.
The oft-shaky closer got Mike Lowell to pop up for the first out, then retired J.D. Drew and Varitek to end the game.
“It felt like business as usual,” Garko said. “Raffy in the eighth and Joe in the ninth. We don’t expect anything else out of Joe.”
And now, they’re expecting more out of themselves.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.

TONIGHT
WHO: Cleveland vs. Boston
WHAT: Game 4, Indians lead best-of-seven series 2-1
TIME: 8:21
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Byrd (15-8, 4.59 ERA) vs. Wakefield (17-12, 4.76)
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM,  WTAM 1100-AM, WKNR 850-AM