Westbrook unable to make adjustments
Right-hander roughed up for four runs in pivitol fifth inning
NEW YORK -- For four innings during Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Jake Westbrook displayed a sensational sinker to shut down the power-packed lineup of the AL Wild Card winners.
Then, in the time it takes to turn a double play, Westbrook's sinker sank in the fifth inning.
Actually, Westbrook's out pitch rose just a little bit in the strike zone, but it was a change perceptible enough for the Yankees to rally for four runs and ultimately prevent a clean sweep of Major League Baseball's four first-round series. Westbrook's greatest frustration, aside from not being able to close out the Yankees, was that he felt great on the mound.
"I really felt strong," said Westbrook, who exited after Alex Rodriguez's infield single leading off the sixth. "They came out with a different approach in the fifth inning and I didn't mix it up like I should have.
"You have to stay away from the big inning, especially against these guys. They are a good hitting team and you have to make your pitches, mix it up and keep them off balance. I did that for a little while but they took advantage when I didn't."
The fourth stood as Westbrook's only perfect inning, making his move off course in the fifth all the more surprising. Westbrook allowed one hit in the first and second and two in the third, but the Yankees only managed to produce one run.
Double plays turned in each of the first three innings, nine ground balls in total and 11 outs recorded via the ground ball certainly aided Westbrook's early escape act. Over the next eight hitters, beginning with Jason Giambi's strikeout opening the fifth, Westbrook retired just three and could not induce a single ground ball.
Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera at the bottom of the New York lineup seemed to be sitting on Westbrook's sinker and taking it the other way early in the count. The job then fell to Westbrook to make the needed adjustments, a mission he couldn't accomplish.
"My sinker was good for the first four innings and it wasn't bad in the fifth," said Westbrook, who allowed six runs on nine hits over five-plus innings in his first career playoff start, marking the most runs allowed by a Cleveland pitcher in the playoffs since Charles Nagy gave up eight against Boston in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS. "But I didn't do a good job of mixing it up [and] working both sides of the plate when they came up with a different approach."
"Early on, I thought Jake threw well and got the big double-play balls in the first three innings," Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis added. "[The sinker] crept up, and not much. But we are talking about going against veteran and experienced hitters."
New York's fifth-inning rally seemed to hold most of Westbrook's postgame consternation. After the Yankees were unable to put together back-to-back hits through the first 22 innings of this series, they rapped out four straight in the fifth.
Johnny Damon's three-home run ultimately stood out as the game-winner, as the Yankees leadoff man launched a 2-0 pitch into the right-field stands for his second long ball of the series. Catcher Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the count against Damon, but Westbrook shook him off and wanted to go with the sinker in an attempt to induce an inning-ending double play.
That particular pattern of success, though, apparently ended after three innings.
"It was a terrible pitch, middle up," said Westbrook of Damon's home run. "Sinkers don't do very much when you locate them right there, and it cost us. To go to that inning with a [two-run] lead and come out being down 5-3, it's very frustrating."
Paul Byrd follows Westbrook to the mound Monday night, leading the Indians' second attempt at locking up a third and deciding win in the Division Series. Although Byrd won 15 games in 2007 and stands as a seasoned veteran of both the regular season and postseason, he might be able to learn from Westbrook's mistakes.
Byrd doesn't have the overpowering stuff of fellow Cleveland starters such as C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona. But relying on his full repertoire of four pitches might work better against a patient team in the Yankees, as opposed to sticking on one main pitch.
Once Westbrook's sinker began to rise Sunday, his night -- and the Indians' hope for a three-game sweep -- came to a crashing fall.
"This game was similar to C.C.'s ballgame in Game 1, but he kept the lead and I did not," said Westbrook, who threw 79 pitches in a little over five innings. "I will learn from that, learn to stay away from patterns against good hitting teams."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.