CLEVELAND — Not their best. Not even second best. Jake Westbrook, right at home in the Jake, was exactly what the Cleveland Indians needed.
Westbrook, an often overlooked third wheel in Cleveland's starting rotation, kept Boston grounded for nearly seven innings Monday night, leading the Indians to a 4-2 win over the Red Sox and a 2-1 lead in the AL championship series.
The laid-back right-hander, who missed a big chunk of the season with an injury, doesn't possess the overpowering stuff of either C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona — Cleveland's two aces who flopped badly in Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park — or their stellar reputations.
But Westbrook does have a devastating sinkerball, and oh my, how it sunk the Red Sox.
"I was able to make good pitches when I needed to," Westbrook said. "It was fun to be a sinkerball pitcher tonight. That's what I live and die by. That's what I threw all night."
Backed by an early homer from old pro Kenny Lofton, Westbrook took a shutout into the seventh inning.
"We needed it," said Indians manager Eric Wedge, who had to use five relievers in Cleveland's Game 2 win. "Our bullpen has been working hard. Jake controlled the ballgame. He did a good job working ahead and keeping the ball on the ground."
Game 4 on Tuesday night will feature two soft tossers: Cleveland's Paul Byrd, with his old-school windup, and Boston's Tim Wakefield, the 41-year-old knuckleballing master.
Boston grounded into three double plays, two of them by October's scariest twosome — David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also combined for something even more unusual: Ramirez's grounder nailed Big Papi in the leg on the basepaths for an out that helped Westbrook.
In all, Westbrook got 14 of 19 outs on balls the Red Sox pounded weakly into the manicured grass and infield dirt at Jacobs Field, which hosted its first ALCS game since 1998. Back then, Westbrook was in Montreal's minor league system perfecting a pitch that drops, dips and darts as it approaches home plate.
The Red Sox couldn't do anything with it until the seventh, when Jason Varitek hit a two-run homer.
Jensen Lewis relieved with a runner on and struck out rookie Dustin Pedroia to end the inning. Rafael Betancourt worked a perfect eighth and Joe Borowski, the AL saves leader, pitched a rare 1-2-3 ninth.
Lofton, with a baseball passport stamped by 11 teams over 17 seasons, handed Westbrook an early lead with a two-run homer in the second inning off rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka. Cleveland added two more runs in the fifth against Dice-K, the high-priced Japanese import whom the Red Sox invested more than $100 million in to pitch in games like this.
"I thought he threw some good pitches," manager Terry Francona said. "But he was in a lot of deep counts."
By comparison, Westbrook was a bargain at $33 million for the Indians, who locked him up in April for three more years before he had a chance to test the free-agent market after this season.
Westbrook then spent seven weeks on the DL with a side injury and didn't find his groove until August, when he went 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA. But even then, Westbrook, who lost to the Red Sox on July 23, wasn't expected to shut down Boston.
Westbrook was in complete control until J.D. Drew grounded a one-out single to center in the seventh. Varitek followed with a homer to center, bringing the Red Sox to 4-2.
The homer ended Boston's 13-inning scoreless streak.