|Catcher Victor Martinez takes time in the second inning to calm down Jake Westbrook, who gave up seven hits to the first 11 batters he faced. (STAN GROSSFELD/GLOBE STAFF)|
Westbrook found groove
The doomsday scenario, as outlined by Indians manager Eric Wedge, was in place. Should starter Jake Westbrook falter early, C.C. Sabathia or Paul Byrd would be ready for the call.
"I'm hoping we don't see 'em tonight," Wedge said before the game, with a chuckle.
As it turned out, Westbrook wobbled through his first three innings - enough to warrant action in the bullpen, but not enough to get yanked. Westbrook gave up a run in each of the first three innings, which earned him the 'L' in the box score, but it was the Cleveland bullpen that let the floodgates open in what turned into an 11-2 Red Sox win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
"I thought Jake did an outstanding job," said Indians third baseman Casey Blake. "He caught some bad luck early on, but I thought he settled down and pitched great."
Coming off a masterful victory in Game 3, when he surrendered two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings, Westbrook was shaky at the start last night, giving up seven hits to the first 11 batters he faced. Early on, his sinker worked both to his advantage and to his detriment.
In the first an RBI single by Manny Ramírez came courtesy of the lip of the infield grass, the ball skipping over the head of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Two batters later, J.D. Drew - unable to deliver bases-loaded heroics for the second straight night - grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning, thanks to a nifty barehanded turn by Asdrubal Cabrera at second.
Another 6-4-3 double play by Julio Lugo in the second plated a run, but kept Westbrook away from the big inning - and kept him in the game.
"Sometimes that's how I pitch," Westbrook said. "I found myself in a lot of trouble when some sinkers found the holes and they got guys on base, and I just had to make a pitch. I was able to do that early on."
Westbrook cruised after giving up a double to Kevin Youkilis to open the third, surrendering just two hits - singles to Jason Varitek and Julio Lugo in the fourth - in his final 14 batters.
"I found my changeup there in the fifth inning," Westbrook said. "It was probably the best it's been in a long time. It wasn't there early but I found it and was able to mix it up a lot better, and just kind of get into a little more of a groove."
Westbrook worked clean innings in the fifth and sixth - striking out four batters in that span. His final pitch was a wicked curve to get Drew swinging to end the sixth. After throwing 94 pitches, Westbrook was removed for Rafael Betancourt to start the seventh.
"I felt strong," Westbrook said.
"I felt like I could have gone back another inning. But that's a decision that Wedge and Carl [Willis] made, and they're the manager and the pitching coach, so you have to respect their decision."
That decision turned out to be a disastrous one, as Dustin Pedroia launched a two-run homer over the Wall in left to give the Sox some breathing room. Betancourt unraveled from there, surrendering six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.
The ending, having blown a 3-1 series lead, was a bitter one for Cleveland, but Westbrook took solace in the young stars the Indians have in place. It's a group that is built for future Octobers.
"Guys had great years," Westbrook said, "and we're going to look back and be very pleased with our season once we get over the disappointment of this Game 7 loss."