Hafner's late homer bails out Indians

Hafner's late homer bails out Indians

ANAHEIM -- Jake Westbrook had seen this kind of game before -- just six days earlier, in fact.

"For a while there," Westbrook said, "it was looking like it was going to be one of those 'pitch-just-well-enough-to-lose' type of scenarios."

That was the scenario facing Westbrook as he and his Indians were down a run and one strike away from defeat at the hands of the Angels on Tuesday night.

But then Asdrubal Cabrera took a tempting pitch for ball four, Travis Hafner clobbered a cutter over the right-field wall and the Tribe pulled off an unexpected comeback for a thrilling 4-3 win at Angel Stadium.

It was a big win for Westbrook, who had tossed a gem of a ballgame in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox in his first start of the season and appeared destined for a similarly tough-luck fate. It was also a big win for a Tribe team just 24 hours removed from a disaster of a ninth-inning defeat.

"I think this team always, regardless of what happened the night before, shows up ready to play hard," Hafner said. "You don't want to lose the first two games of a series. It's always nice to come back and get a win."

The Indians needed to come back because of one bad pitch made by an extraordinarily efficient Westbrook in the game's first eight innings.

With the Tribe clinging to a 2-1 lead in the sixth, one on and Vladimir Guerrero at the plate with a 1-2 count, Westbrook tried to get cute. He wanted to run a slider out of the strike zone, but the pitch stayed out over the middle of the plate.

It was promptly propelled out to dead center.

"He doesn't miss too many mistakes, as strong as he is," Westbrook said of Guerrero. "And he definitely didn't miss that one. At the time, it was a bad mistake, giving them the lead. That was very frustrating."

The frustration mounted because the Indians' bats continued their April apathy. This time, it was right-hander Ervin Santana -- a pitcher the Tribe has pummeled in the past -- lulling them to sleep. In six innings, all he allowed was Cabrera's two-run single in the fifth.

So when Westbrook left the mound after the eighth, his second loss was looming.

Not that Westbrook deserved such a fate. Guerrero's homer was one of just seven hits Westbrook had allowed, and his penchant for getting ground-ball outs early in the count had his number of pitches at just 88. He was merely continuing a trend of solid outings that he established in a scoreless Spring Training season.

"I'm just pitching with a lot of confidence right now," Westbrook said. "I'm mixing it up well, throwing a lot of pitches for strikes, and my arm feels good and strong."

Westbrook's chances of avoiding the loss weren't good or strong when Justin Speier retired Jamey Carroll and Grady Sizemore to open the ninth.

But Cabrera made Speier work. The game appeared over when Cabrera grounded Speier's 3-2 fastball down the first-base line, but the ball was ruled to have rolled foul, and the hitter stayed alive.

The next 3-2 offering was a tough pitch to lay off. It was high but hittable. Cabrera took it for ball four.

"Cabrera had a great at-bat," manager Eric Wedge said. "That was as important as anything. Because the big guy doesn't get up there if he doesn't put up that kind of AB."

The big guy, of course, is the man known as Pronk, who was looming on deck.

"I had some runners on earlier in the game and wasn't able to get a hit," Hafner said. "I was just hoping for a chance in the ninth to come up."

He got his chance and made the most of it in a hurry. He launched Speier's first-pitch fastball deep to right, into the area that formerly housed the visitor's bullpen. It was Hafner's second monstrous blast of this West Coast road trip, and it was the decisive blow in this one.

"Oh, man," Westbrook said. "That was huge."

Westbrook still had to come up huge, though, getting a save opportunity, of sorts, when Wedge sent him back out to work the ninth inning.

"It's not real easy to go back out there in the ninth inning when you come out of the eighth down a run and thinking you're done," Wedge said. "To have to turn that switch back on and finish it off showed a great deal of what we know Jake is all about."

What Westbrook is all about is inducing ground balls, and he got a big one with one on and none out in the bottom of the ninth. Guerrero came up again, and rather than send him another slider, Westbrook stuck with his money pitch -- the sinker. Guerrero grounded it to Andy Marte at third, and a 5-4-3 double play was ignited.

"That was probably the pitch I should have thrown to him in the sixth," Westbrook said.

Garret Anderson's flyout to deep center ended a ballgame Westbrook had thought he'd lost. His teammates didn't let that happen.

"He pitched great all spring, and he's pitched great in both of his starts," Hafner said of Westbrook. "He looks really sharp. I'm glad we were able to get him a win."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.