Joe Borowski and his 5.07 regular-season ERA didn't seem to matter much while he was retiring the side in order in the ninth inning to finish off the Indians' 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Jacobs Field on Monday night.
Borowski followed Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt to the mound as they combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings and rewarded starter Jake Westbrook with a victory for his terrific effort.
"What Jake did, you couldn't ask for anything more," Lewis said. "When I was warming up and saw the situation [a two-run game], I thought, 'We got to get it done for Jake.' You got a guy who has been battling all night long. For him to do what he did, you want to be able to pick him up."
Lewis, Betancourt and Borowski did that and the Indians bullpen is now 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in seven games in the playoffs. The relievers have been needed for 26 innings and held their opponents to 18 hits and seven walks while striking out 24. Their opponents are hitting .198.
"It's not like we're doing anything different," Borowski said. "These guys have been doing it all year. What we've been doing lately, it's not like it's a shock or something out of the ordinary."
Indians relievers were fourth in the American League this year with a combined 3.73 ERA and Borowski did lead the league with 45 saves. But he also developed a reputation for making things interesting.
He was not known for setting down the side in order. He did it just five times over 26 appearances in August and September, and in none of his first four appearances in the playoffs. In fact, he gave up a run against the Yankees in his only save opportunity before nailing down the victory.
But he was clean on Monday, much to the relief of 44,402 fans. Mike Lowell popped out to first baseman Ryan Garko, J.D. Drew flied out to center and Jason Varitek popped out to third baseman Casey Blake.
"This one was really special," Borowski said. "Anytime you put your team up 2-1 like that, it's really special. I'll savor this for a few minutes and then get ready for the next one."
For a while, it appeared that the Indians might be able to give their bullpen a night off. Westbrook took a four-hitter and a 4-0 lead into the seventh and seemed in complete command. But the Red Sox didn't go down easy. With one out, Drew singled to center and Varitek followed with a two-run home run.
Suddenly it was 4-2. Westbrook struck out Coco Crisp, but Julio Lugo reached on an infield hit, bringing Dustin Pedroia to the plate as the tying run. Indians manager Eric Wedge responded by bringing in Lewis, the rookie right-hander who had pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday night in Boston.
"Postseason is all about momentum," Lewis said. "When Varitek hit that home run, they had finally broken through and had the tying run at the plate. When I came in, I thought that this was where we need to draw the line."
Lewis did just that, striking out Pedroia to end the inning. It was the only batter he faced but another example of why Wedge has grown confident in using him in big situations since he was promoted from Triple-A Buffalo on July 13.
"He has been a great addition to our bullpen," Wedge said. "He's worked his way back in the bullpen to be an important part of it. I think tonight was a perfect example of it. I really didn't want to use Betancourt for more than an inning."
Betancourt had thrown 42 pitches in his 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday and admitted that his arm sometimes felt like it weighed "20 pounds." But he is the Indians' best setup reliever and the Red Sox were bringing their best to the plate in the eighth inning: Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
"I knew who was coming up that inning," Betancourt said. "I just didn't want to let anybody get on base. Get three outs and let Joe come in the ninth."
He did just that, mixing in an occasional offspeed pitch to go with his 94 mph fastball. He struck out Youkilis, then got Ortiz on a liner to right and Ramirez on a popup. He remains unscored upon in the playoffs and has allowed just two runs in his last 20 2/3 innings going back to the end of August.
The whole Indians bullpen is on a roll.
"I can't say enough about our bullpen," catcher Victor Martinez said. "They've been carrying us up to now. They've been great all year."