A Tribe team that didn't get the outings it had expected from Sabathia and Carmona in Games 1 and 2 got much more than it could have bargained for from Westbrook. His dipping and diving sinker devastated the potent Red Sox bats, as the Indians won, 4-2, to take command of the series in front of a sellout crowd of 44,402 at Jacobs Field.
The Indians have a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-seven ALCS, thanks in large part to the 14 ground-ball outs and three inning-ending double plays induced by Westbrook in an outing that demonstrated why the Tribe still views him as a cornerstone of the rotation.
"I just came in tonight wanting to get ahead and get strike one with a quality pitch," Westbrook said. "I was able to do that, and it showed by the way I pitched."
Did it ever.
It was evident from the outset that Westbrook, coming off a roughshod outing against the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, had his best sinker working. He got David Ortiz, who had reached base safely in 18 of 23 postseason plate appearances, to hit into the first of those double plays.
With the Indians in full-shift mode on the fearsome left-handed hitter, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice pick of a hard-hit ball and tossed it to third baseman Casey Blake at second to start the rare 4-5-3 turn.
"That's about as good a double play as you're going to see," manager Eric Wedge said.
The second inning was textbook Westbrook.
The Red Sox put three on with none out against the contact-inducing right-hander, with first baseman Ryan Garko's fielding foible on what should have been a routine groundout from J.D. Drew loading them up.
It was the type of inning that might have blown up in Westbrook's face in that start against the Yanks. This time, however, he got Jason Varitek to fly out to shallow left, then got the ground ball he was looking for out of Coco Crisp for a 6-3 double play.
"I got behind Coco, [2-1], and then just told myself to trust the sinker, and I was able to do that," Westbrook said. "I made a good pitch and got a double play, which was big for us."
It loomed larger in the bottom of the inning, when, with one on, Kenny Lofton pounded Daisuke Matsuzaka's first-pitch fastball over the right-center-field wall to give Westbrook a 2-0 cushion. An inning that could have easily gone the Red Sox way instead belonged to the Tribe.
The rest of the game would follow suit.
Westbrook was aided further in the fifth, when the Indians pushed two more runs across against Dice-K to knock the $100 million Japanese import out of the game. Blake got that inning going with a one-out base hit, moved to second when Grady Sizemore walked and came around to score when Cabrera scooted a ground-ball single up the middle.
Blake had a feeling the 4-0 lead handed to Westbrook at that point would be enough for the sinkerballer to get by.
"He was the key to our victory," Blake said. "To do what he did against that lineup was incredible. He was throwing the ball with a lot more confidence than he had in his last start. He's a veteran, but he's still learning, and he learned from that last start."
Specifically, Westbrook said he learned not to pattern his pitches as predictably. This time, he worked in his curveball more effectively and sliced and diced up the plate.
"I didn't mix it up [against the Yankees], didn't work both sides of the plate and it really cost me," he said. "Tonight, I mixed it up a little better. I was able to keep them off balance and make good pitches when I needed to."
Westbrook definitely needed to in the sixth. Consecutive singles from Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz had two on with one out, and, oh by the way, Manny Ramirez was due up. Next thing he knew, Westbrook was behind, 3-0, against the man with more postseason homers than any other player in history.
No worries. Westbrook tossed a sinker on the inside edge of the plate for a called strike one, then got Ramirez to foul off two pitches. Going for the kill, Westbrook reared back, tossed one more sinker and Ramirez grounded into the inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.
"He slowed himself down when he needed to slow himself down," Wedge said of Westbrook. "Obviously, they've got an outstanding lineup over there, but Jake did a good job controlling the ballgame."
The Red Sox, though, did finally get to Westbrook in the seventh. Varitek got ahold of one of those sinkers and slammed it out to dead center for a two-run shot that made it 4-2. And when Julio Lugo singled with two outs, Wedge turned to rookie reliever Jensen Lewis.
"I wanted to get it done for [Westbrook]," Lewis said. "When you've got a guy battling like that all the way through, you want to be able to help him out and pick him up."
Lewis did just that, striking out Dustin Pedroia to end the inning. The rest of the bullpen followed suit, with Rafael Betancourt tossing a perfect eighth and closer Joe Borowski silencing the Red Sox with just his 21st 1-2-3 inning of the season in the ninth.
The relievers were simply following the standard set by Westbrook in his 6 2/3 innings of work. He might not have gotten the hype of the dual aces who preceded him in this series, but he got the results.
"For Jake to get us that deep in the ballgame and control the ballgame the way he did," Wedge said, "that was something we needed."