Indians claim AL Central crown
Finish matches month-long span that put Tribe in position
CLEVELAND -- They clinched it the way they claimed it.The Indians came into Sunday's game with a supreme focus on locking up the American League Central Division championship in the regular-season home finale, in front of a bustling sellout crowd of 40,250 fans. "That's what we wanted to do," starter Jake Westbrook said. "We got some help yesterday with Kansas City beating Detroit [dropping the magic number down to one], and we just wanted to get it done today for Cleveland and the fans here." They got it done, officially, when Rafael Betancourt struck out Mark Ellis in the top of the ninth to cap a 6-2 victory over the A's. But the Indians' first division title since 2001 and their seventh in 13 seasons became theirs, for all intents and purposes, over the course of a month-long span in which they've beared down and played their best baseball of the season. The division race between the Tribe and the Tigers was knotted up Aug. 15. Then the Indians turned on the jets and went 27-9 over their last 36 games. So if they seemed a little more intense and a little more determined Sunday, don't let it fool you. "We're always intense," center fielder Grady Sizemore said. "I don't think we ever lose that. This is a team that never gives up." Still, Sizemore had to admit, "We had a sense of urgency to get it done today." They certainly showed it. Westbrook, coming off a rough outing in a big game against Detroit, struck out a career-high nine batters over seven strong innings of work. Sizemore, batting in the leadoff spot, turned in a four-hit performance for the fourth time this season. All the hits came off lefties. Betancourt, sent in to relieve Rafael Perez of a two-out, two-on jam in the eighth, pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out three. It was a game that served as representation of how the Indians got themselves into this enviable position in the first place. "We've had a great focus for an extended period of time," manager Eric Wedge said. "You saw it again today." Wedge always harps on how a team's performance starts with the starting pitching. And from the beginning of this game, it was clear Westbrook had his best sinker working. The crowd began to roar as he prepared to throw the game's first pitch to Shannon Stewart, and he fed off that energy to force key double-play balls in the first and second innings. "I was throwing the ball hard and locating a lot of my pitches," Westbrook said. "It was fun to pitch today." This season hasn't always been fun for Westbrook. He struggled in April and strained an abdominal muscle in early May, forcing him to sit for six weeks. When he came back, he looked rusty, right up until he put together an outstanding August that was instrumental in the Tribe's standings surge.
|"We've had a great focus for an extended period of time. You saw it again today."|
|-- Eric Wedge|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.