By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
CLEVELAND Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
-- This American League Championship Series has seen games started and ended by past World Series most valuable players and future Cy Young Award winners, pitchers with 20-win seasons and 200-win careers, pitchers whose deadly arsenals should be marked with the skull-and-crossbones, pitchers who might someday be in the Hall of Fame. And then there are Jake Westbrook and Joe Borowski, starting pitcher and closer, respectively, for the Cleveland Indians.
On Monday night in Game 3 of the ALCS, Westbrook did something his more heralded, better-armed teammates in the Indians' rotation could not do -- subdue the relentless offensive attack of the Boston Red Sox into the seventh inning. And Borowski did something he has seldom done this season -- navigate a ninth inning without major incident.
And as a result, the Indians, on the backs of these two pitchers with humble gifts but sturdy hearts, emerged with a hard-fought 4-2 victory, delighting a crowd of 44,402 at Jacobs Field and earning themselves a two-games-to-one advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 will be Tuesday night, with Cleveland's Paul Byrd scheduled to face Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, unless the Red Sox reverse course and bring back ace Josh Beckett on three days' rest, something they have publicly ruled out.
On a night that felt like the Last Great Night of October -- with mild temperatures, clear skies, the gentlest breeze off Lake Erie, but rain in the forecast and surely worse still to come -- the Indians gave Westbrook the lead with a two-run homer by left fielder and well-traveled DHL pitchman Kenny Lofton off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, doubled it with two more runs off Matsuzaka in the fifth, then survived a couple of dicey trips through the lion-heart of the Red Sox' lineup to bring home the win.
"It was a good baseball game," Indians Manager Eric Wedge said. "You needed to make pitches. You needed to make plays. You needed to get two-out hits. . . . But for Jake to get us deep into that game, that was something we needed."
The game seemed somehow incomplete without a death-defying tightrope-walk from Borowski, who saved 45 games this year but who never has met a clean inning he couldn't dirty up with base runners. This time, however, Borowski entered in the ninth in place of bat-allergic setup man Rafael Betancourt, and induced three harmless popups to close out the win. Fireworks exploded overhead as the Indians hugged and shook hands in the center of the field.
"I'll take it every time," Borowski said of his 1-2-3 ninth. "I make jokes about it. I'm not going to blow people away."
Though certainly no punching bag, Westbrook owns a career record that is the model of mediocrity -- 62 wins and 62 losses, with a lifetime ERA (4.35) that is almost exactly the league average (4.39) during the seasons in which he has pitched. He is of average age (30), of average size for a pitcher (6 feet 3, 200 pounds) and possessing of average stuff.
After surviving -- and in fact, trampling upon -- the 1-2 punch of twin Indians aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in Games 1 and 2, the Red Sox must have loved the sight of Westbrook, who started 25 games this season but won only six times, particularly if they had watched video of his start in a losing performance in Game 3 of the Division Series against the New York Yankees.
But Westbrook pitched more confidently than he had at Yankee Stadium, perhaps a result of the more comfortable, less terrifying surroundings. He worked fast -- especially in comparison to the deliberate pace of Matsuzaka, who failed to make it through the fifth inning for the second straight time this postseason -- threw strikes (including first-pitch strikes to 15 of the first 16 batters he faced) and survived while living on the edge of disaster:
¿ In the first inning, he walked Kevin Youkilis ahead of the fearsome David Ortiz, but got Ortiz to smash a rocket into the teeth of the Indians' overshifted infield, where second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera speared it and started an oddly shaped 4-5-3 double play.
¿ In the second, Westbrook loaded the bases with nobody out, but escaped with no runs scoring when Jason Varitek flied out to shallow left and the speedy Coco Crisp grounded into a double play, shortstop unassisted to first.
¿ In the fourth, Ortiz led off by doubling off the wall in left, but was erased when Manny Ramirez's hot grounder to short struck him on the thigh. Score it as a hit for Ramirez, a putout for the shortstop and another wasted opportunity for the Red Sox.
¿ In the sixth, after Youkilis singled with one out and Ortiz drew a walk, Ramirez unleashed a scorching grounder -- directly at shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who turned it into yet another double play.
"Tonight I mixed it up a little better" than in the start against the Yankees, Westbrook said. "I worked both sides of the plate, and I was able to keep them somewhat off-balance."
Finally, in the seventh, Westbrook slipped. After J.D. Drew singled with one out, Varitek blasted a 407-foot homer that pulled the Red Sox within two runs and virtually ensured Borowski would have a say in the outcome.
In fact, Borowski did have a say, but instead of stirring up the passions with a dramatic soliloquy that put everyone in the stadium on edge, he was succinct and to the point. Three quick outs later, the Indians' victory was complete, and it was every bit as satisfying as the harrowing kind, and much easier on the stomach.