Monday, October 15, 2007

The Other Pitcher

Hey Boston, remember that third starter Cleveland has? The one that got next to no attention leading up to the ALCS and was dismissed as a weak link in the rotation after getting bombed by New York? Remember him? Of course you don't, but Jake Westbrook did in Game 3 what Sabathia and Carmona could not: shut down the Boston offense.

Jake delivered the kind of quality start Cleveland craved, scattering 7 H and 3 BB over 6.2 innings. Westbrook's defining moment came in the 6th when he got Manny Ramirez to ground into an inning ending double play with two men on. Boston's only runs came off a two-run homer by Jason Varitek in the 7th, shortly before Westbrook's night ended.

Jensen Lewis completed the 7th with a strikeout of Dustin Pedroia. Raffy Betancourt and Kevin "that guy from Moneyball" Youkilis locked horns again in the 8th before Raffy retired Ortiz and Ramirez, neutralizing Boston's last legitimate scoring threat. Youkilis had an 11 pitch at-bat against Betancourt in the 9th of Game 2 and an 8 pitch at-bat tonight. Not a fun experience late in the game with Ortiz on-deck.

JoeBo sealed the game with a painless 1-2-3 inning. Borowski has earned two saves this postseason, but it was still nice to see him breeze through the bottom of Boston's lineup. Wedge has shown that Borowski is the undisputed closer for the playoffs, so his body of work thus far is encouraging (4 IP, 2 SV, 2.25 ERA).

The infield defense was sharp and made a crucial contribution to Cleveland's win tonight. Westbrook fed the infield three double play balls tonight, frustrating Boston by staying just out of reach. Westbrook got Ortiz (1st inn.), Crisp (2nd inn.), and Ramirez (6th inn.) to each ground into a DP. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta made some beautiful plays around the horn, including a snag on the run by AstroCab to start the first DP and steal a hit from Ortiz.

Peralta seemed to be charging the ball and working the pivot all night, to great effect. I honestly don't remember Peralta's defense looking this dynamic before. Say what you will about his regular season habits, but Jhonny has awakened in October.

Westbrook got stronger as the game went on, working around the occasional walk or hit, but never yielding. Sox batters didn't seem to be going for Jake's sinker early on, but started to press after the Tribe took the lead. Westbrook finished with 14 groundball outs and 2 strikeouts. The number of groundball outs is always a good indicator of how well Jake's pitches are working. Judging by some of the enraged, post at-bat reactions from Boston's players, the sinker was working just fine.

It looked like Jake might run into trouble early on as he seemed to be getting squeezed on pitches at the edge of the (supposed) strike zone. I know the crowd reacts unfavorably to many called balls, but seriously. The ump tonight sucked. A lot. Tiny strikezones are one thing, but this guy couldn't even call it consistently. I felt bad for Jake, you could tell that he was annoyed with the ump (lots of long pauses and Wickman-esque grimaces). Fortunately this chump didn't cost us any runs tonight.

After exploding late in Game 3, the offense showed it still had plenty left in the tank for Matsuzaka-san. Matsuzaka did plenty of damage with 6 strikeouts, but the way the Tribe was hammering the ball, it was only a matter of time before they got to Boston's starter. The quality of the Tribe's at-bats steadily improved, but they were just missing the elusive game-breaker. Ryan Garko atoned for his earlier error by smacking a single up the middle to start the 2nd. Kenny Lofton followed up with a homerun that just cleared the right field wall.

Lofton made the first pitch he saw into a souvenir, sending the crowd into a frenzy. You'd have thought he had hit a walk-off by the way the stadium roared; definitely one of my favorite moments of the postseason so far. First Trot Nixon with a game-winning hit, now Kenny Lofton hitting one out of the park? How about that.

The Tribe managed to score two more runs off Matsuzaka before Francona crashed the party. Cleveland's four baserunners were enough to convince Francona to yank his starter in the 5th inning for the second game in a row. The Boston bullpen did it's job, holding Cleveland to 4 runs, but the Tribe's bullpen continued its playoff dominance.

Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield get the call for Game 4. Wakefield has had mixed results against Eric Wedge's Indians and has not faced them in 2007. I have a feeling Cleveland will have a solid plan of attack for Wakefield. Veterans Kenny Lofton and Trot Nixon should prove useful in helping the rest of the lineup figure out Wakefield's elusive knuckle ball. Byrd has decent career numbers against Boston (4.12 ERA) and has faced them once this season. Byrd gave up 1 ER over 6 IP at Fenway in May.

No comments: