NEW YORK — The Indians’ road to a sweep in the American League Division Series runs through one of the toughest venues in baseball and one of the game’s greatest pitchers.
Though Cleveland is in an ideal situation with a 2-0 series lead over New York, if the Indians want to end things tonight, they will have to do so at Yankee Stadium and against Roger Clemens.
To make that happen, Cleveland will call on Jake Westbrook, the man who was on the mound when they wrapped up the Central Division title, to pitch them to another clinching win.
“He’s a guy that prides himself on being someone you can count on, and you know what you’re going to get from him,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. “He has a quiet intensity about him that he channels in the right direction, and I’m hoping we’ll see that (tonight).”
Westbrook, who battled injuries and inconsistency to produce a 6-9 record and 4.32 ERA in 25 regular-season starts, will face a Yankee offense that has slumped through the first two games of the series — scoring just four runs on seven hits — but that always has the potential to be dangerous.
“Just because they’ve struggled the first two ballgames doesn’t mean that they aren’t a good hitting team,” said Westbrook, who had trouble with the majors’ top scoring club this year, losing both of his starts against them, while posting a whopping 12.46 ERA. He is 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA in 10 career appearances against New York. “They’re a very good hitting team, best in baseball. It’s my job to go out there and pitch my game and try to continue the (slumping) trend.”
The Yankees are on the verge of being eliminated from the postseason in the first round for the third consecutive year and do not have history on their side. Since the inception of the division series in 1995, 16 teams have headed home down 2-0, with just three coming back win the series. New York is actually the only team to drop the first two games of the ALDS at home and still win the series (2001 against Oakland).
“We’ve been trying to keep everybody loose but, unfortunately, Cleveland’s pitchers have been tightening them up pretty good,” said Yanks manager Joe Torre, who could be on the bench for his final season in New York, especially if Cleveland wins the series. The only thing we have to concentrate on is winning (tonight).
“We need to win one game just to get the momentum switched around a little bit. And Roger, of course, is certainly capable.”
There’s no doubt that the Dayton-born Clemens, even at age 45, is capable of conjuring up something special. Still, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner with 34 postseason appearances on his resume made only 17 starts during the regular season and hasn’t pitched since Sept. 16, battling a blister, a sore elbow and an ailing hamstring.
“I think anybody else besides him, you’d be kind of concerned, because he hasn’t pitched much,” said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings at the Indians in New York’s 2-1, 11-inning loss in Game 2 on Friday. “You wouldn’t want anybody else throwing for us.”
“It’s Roger Clemens,” said Wedge, who, along with Westbrook, was once a teammate of Clemens’. Wedge played with Clemens in 1991-92 and 1994 with the Red Sox, while Westbrook was briefly a teammate in 2000 with the Yankees, before he was traded to Cleveland for David Justice. “You know what type of competitor he is.”
Over the long layoff, Clemens has been throwing on the side and pitching in simulated games. And his physical condition is, as always, top notch.
“I trust that I’ve done enough work to stay sharp,” Clemens said. “If I’m not, it really doesn’t matter. I’ve got to go out and be aggressive. What I lack in stuff, I’ll throw my heart out there like I always have.
“I’ve got a lot of will and desire, doesn’t matter my age. I draw on a lot of energy.”
Much of that energy is expected to come from a Yankee Stadium crowd that will be at full capacity (57,000) and sounding as if it’s double that size once the game gets under way. He’ll also bring dominant career numbers against the Indians — 27-8, 3.13 ERA in 49 games.
“I expect he’ll get locked in and I expect he’ll throw a good game for us,” Pettitte said. “It’s going to be exciting. He’s going to feed off the crowd, I think, and this place is going to be exciting.”
All the anti-Yankee sentiment that permeated Jacobs Field through the first two games of the series will be turned on the Indians in The House that Ruth Built.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment,” said Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore. “It’s going to be a tough game. You just try to block it out as best as you can and focus on what you have to on the field.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland at New York
WHAT: Game 3 (Indians lead best-of-5 series, 2-0)
WHERE: Yankee Stadium
PITCHERS: Westbrook (6-9, 4.32 ERA) vs. Clemens (6-6, 4.18)
TV/RADIO: TBS; SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WKNR 850-AM