Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jake Owns The Jake

This is why the Indians extended him. It was for nights like this. In mid-April, the Indians announced they had given Jake Westbrook a three-year, $33 million dollar extension that would keep him here through the 2010 season. At the time, I wrote "he’s exactly the kind of player that fits the Shapiro model." Well Shappy had to be smiling last night.

With the series tied 1-1, Jake was in control from pitch one, pitching six 2/3 innings of vintage Jake-ball. He allowed seven hits, but whenever he needed it, he came up with the big pitch to get the double plays he needed. Three double plays actually. In the first inning, Kevin Youkilis walked with one out. David Ortiz, one of the three Sox the Indians seemingly could not get out in the first two games, smacked a liner to Asdrubal Cabrera in short right who threw to second to get one and third baseman Casey Blake, playing essentially at Short because of the Ortiz shift, threw to first for the rarest of the rare 4-5-3 DP. Ryan Garko made a terrific stretch and scoop in the process. In the second, Westbrook put himself in a bind by loading the bases with nobody out after a hit, a walk, and an error by Garko. We all were preparing for the worst. Then Jason Varitek sent a short fly to left. One out. Up stepped former Indian Coco Crisp. On a 2-1 count, the speedy Crisp sent a grounder right to shortstop Jhonny Peralta who stepped on second and threw to first for the inning-ending double play. I'm glad I was sitting on the aisle as I jumped about as high as Michael Jordan after hitting "The Shot." (OK, maybe not, but it felt like it.)

It seems to happen so often in Baseball; after a big defensive play, the same team comes to the plate and the offense comes up big. So many times throughout these playoffs, the Indians two-out lightning strikes. The bottom of the second was no different. With Ryan Garko on first and two down, up stepped Kenny Lofton. The Jacobs Field crowd could sense it. You could feel that something was about to happen. He worked the count to 3-2, the crowd was on its feet, and Kenny drove one to deep right-center and it was gone. It was 2-0 Tribe. Kenny, the new king of Cleveland, had done it once again in October. The crowd wouldn't sit down, we all chanted "KENNY, KENNY, KENNY" until he came out and delivered a curtain call. Tribe fans who yearn for the return of the 90's have embraced Kenny. He is "one of their own." Nobody gets louder cheers than Kenny. Not Grady, Not Victor, Not Pronk. The best part of it all is that he has saved his best for the playoffs. it was his first Pizza as an Indian, well at least this time around. Said Lofton "the guys have been ragging me about not hitting a homer...I told Ryan Garko the other day I'm going to square one up and it will go out."

But back to Jake. With the Indians up 2-0, Westbrook continued to get ahead of hitters. In 14 of his first 16 outs, he threw a first pitch strike. For a team like the Red Sox, who's approach is to work pitchers deep into the count, this was not what they were looking for. Jake cruised through the third, fourth, and fifth, allowing just one base runner. Meanwhile, Tribe bats were delivering more run support, thanks to an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera and a fielder's choice by Travis Hafner. Dustin Pedroia almost turned a spectacular 4-3 double play, but Pronk barely beat out the throw to give the Tribe a 4-0 lead. With one out in the sixth, Youkilis singled bringing the Red Sox meat to the plate. He walked Ortiz and Ramirez stepped to the plate.

Once again, a sick feeling came over me and the rest of the 44,000 plus. Manny has been so hot and had already reached base in both of his previous plate appearances. This seemed to be the seminal moment of the game. It was going to turn one way or the other. Westbrook had to bear down. He got down 3-0 in the count and I had bitten off all of my finger nails from my right hand. He got it to 3-2 and once again, the crowd rose as one, trying to will Jake. Ramirez ripped a grounder right at Peralta, who threw to AC to start the 6-4-3 inning-ending double play. Wow. Jake's third double play ball of the night. It was the 14th groundball out in his 18 outs to that point.

After giving up a two-run homer to Jason Varitek in the seventh, Westbrook departed to a well deserved standing ovation. I figured with two outs, it was Realtor time. But interestingly enough, Jensen Lewis emerged from the bullpen. It shows the faith Eric Wedge has in the kid. I turned to my mom and said "if you told me four months ago that Jensen Lewis would be pitching in a key spot in Game Three of the ALDS, I would have to you that you were nuts." But nevertheless, there he was, facing Pedroia, the tying run. After Pedroia fought off four balls, Lewis K'd him swinging. I let out my loudest scream of the night. You gotta love the moxie of the kid who started the season in AA Akron has done nothing but get guys out since arriving in late June.

Betancourt was money once again in the eight inning, coming in to face Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez. As usual, The Realtor was unhittable, striking out Youkilis, getting Ortiz to line out to defensive replacement Franklyn Gutierrez in right, and watching Manny pop out to second. The beauty of it all was that the Sox best hitters happened to come around in the eighth rather than the ninth, therefore having to face the best set-up man in the game rather than Joe Borowski. Not to be out-done, JoBo actually pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. During the bottom of the eighth, the underlying current was that the Tribe needed more than a two run cushion because no lead seems safe with JoBo coming in. Maybe we should give him more credit.

When Casey Blake squeezed the glove on Varitek's popup for the third out, the Jacobs Field crowd erupted. What a feeling. There is NOTHING better than being there. There is so much passion and emotion inside that stadium. These fans want it so badly. The team wants it so badly. This is the best chemistry of any Tribe team in the Jacobs Field era. You can just tell they all want it for each other, its not just lip service. Those teams of the 90's were a surly bunch, but had boat loads of talent. This team does it with pitching, timely hitting, and a lack of ego. They are a mirror image of their manager.

Two down, two to go.

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