Westbrook keeps Sox in check as Cleveland takes 2-1 lead in series



By Tom Withers

CLEVELAND – Not their best. Not even second best. Jake Westbrook, right at home in the Jake, was exactly what the Cleveland Indians needed.

Westbrook, an often overlooked third wheel in the rotation, kept Boston grounded for nearly seven innings Monday night, leading the Indians to a 4-2 win over the Red Sox and a 2-1 lead in the AL championship series.

The laid-back right-hander, who missed a big chunk of the season with an injury, doesn’t possess the overpowering stuff of either C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona – Cleveland’s two aces who flopped badly in Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park – or their stellar reputations.

But Westbrook does have a devastating sinkerball, and oh my, how it sunk the Red Sox.

Backed by an early homer from old pro Kenny Lofton, Westbrook took a shutout into the seventh inning.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    Game 4 on Tuesday night will feature two soft tossers: Cleveland’s Paul Byrd, with his old-school windup, and Boston’s Tim Wakefield, the 41-year-old knuckleballing master.

    Boston grounded into three double plays, two of them by October’s scariest twosome – David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They combined for something more unusual – Ramirez’s grounder nailed Big Papi in the leg on the basepaths for an out that helped Westbrook.

    In all, Westbrook got 14 of 19 outs on balls the Red Sox pounded weakly into the manicured grass and infield dirt at Jacobs Field, which hosted its first ALCS game since 1998. Back then, Westbrook was in Montreal’s minor league system perfecting a pitch that drops, dips and darts as it approaches home plate.

    The Red Sox couldn’t do anything with it until the seventh, when Jason Varitek hit a two-run homer.

    Jensen Lewis relieved with a runner on and struck out rookie Dustin Pedroia to end the inning. Rafael Betancourt worked a perfect eighth and Joe Borowski, the AL saves leader, pitched a rare 1-2-3 ninth.

    Lofton, with a baseball passport stamped by 11 teams over 17 seasons, handed Westbrook an early lead with a two-run homer in the second inning off Daisuke Matsuzaka. Cleveland added two more runs in the fifth against the high-priced Japanese import, whom the Red Sox invested more than $100 million in to pitch in games like this.

    By comparison, Westbrook was a bargain at $33 million for the Indians, who locked him up in April for three more years before he had a chance to test the free-agent market after this season.

    Westbrook then spent seven weeks on the disabled list with a side injury and didn’t find his groove until August, when he went 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA. But even then, Westbrook, who lost to the Red Sox on July 23, wasn’t expected to shut down Boston.

    Westbrook was in complete control until J.D. Drew grounded a one-out single to center in the seventh. Varitek followed with a homer to center, bringing the Red Sox to 4-2.

    The homer ended Boston’s 13-inning scoreless streak, a drought that began in the sixth inning of Game 2 on Saturday night.

    Westbrook struck out Coco Crisp but when Julio Lugo beat out an infield single, manager Eric Wedge pulled his gutty starter, who received a thunderous ovation from the towel-waving crowd of 44,402 as he jogged to the dugout.

    Lofton, a 40-year-old who could still pass as a twentysomething, gave the Indians a 2-0 lead in the second with his seventh career postseason homer.

    Ryan Garko singled with one out, and with two down, Lofton turned on Matsuzaka’s first pitch and sent it on a low trajectory and barely over the right-field wall.