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07/26/10 11:25 PM ET
Tribe battles, but Yanks burn Westbrook late
Starter's solid outing marred in eighth; Hafner hits ninth homer
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Jake Westbrook avoided giving up Alex Rodriguez's 600th career home run. But Westbrook did not avoid giving up No. 151 to Nick Swisher and No. 112 to Curtis Granderson, and that made all the difference in the Indians' 3-2 loss to the Yankees in the opener of a four-game set at Progressive Field. For A-Rod, history will have to wait another day. A vocal crowd of 27,224 either rooted for or against his bid to become the seventh member of the 600-homer club. Westbrook struck him out in the second, got him to line into a 7-4 double play in the fourth and got him to ground out weakly to short in the seventh. He was not as successful against Swisher in the fourth and Granderson in the game-changing eighth. "That's what killed us tonight," Westbrook said. "The two homers I gave up." Westbrook didn't give up much else. In many respects, he did what he came in hoping to do. Westbrook remembered how locked in he became after the Twins hung a four-spot against him in the third inning of his last start. The irritation from that inning had forced him to refocus, and he wanted that focus to last into this outing. He wasn't thinking about trade rumors or A-Rod's chase; he just wanted to execute. "I was really thinking about how I felt after that four-run inning in Minnesota," he said. "I wanted to feel that the entire ballgame." For most of the game, it worked. The veteran Westbrook had a tough lineup tamed. Through seven innings, he had allowed the run that came on Swisher's solo shot and just one other hit. It was vintage Westbrook -- quick, ground-ball outs, thanks to a sharp sinker. Of course, Javier Vazquez was pretty sharp himself. The Tribe offense, which has gone into a bit of a slumber the last few days, was quiet again with Vazquez dealing. Travis Hafner got to him with a solo shot in the second, and Shin-Soo Choo's RBI double in the sixth scored Michael Brantley from first to give the Indians a 2-1 lead. But that was all a valiant Vazquez allowed in seven-plus innings of work. That all five of the Indians' hits off Vazquez went for extra bases is proof that the right-hander was not untouchable. That the Indians were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position was proof that they were at least remotely accountable for the dominance displayed. But manager Manny Acta felt the credit belonged to Vazquez. "He changed speeds very well," Acta said. "He's been around a long time in both leagues. You can't blame our kids. The guy pitched a good ballgame." So did Westbrook. But unlike the last time Westbrook opposed Vazquez -- a 22-0 Tribe victory in the Bronx on Aug. 31, 2004 -- run support was in short supply. For seven innings, Westbrook didn't need much of it to get in line for the victory. In the eighth, however, Westbrook found trouble. By that point, he had already thrown 99 pitches, so it would have been reasonable for Acta to consider turning to another option. But neither Westbrook nor Acta deemed that necessary. "I felt great," Westbrook said. "You work hard to be able to [pitch late in games]. That's why I have the routine I have and do all the arm exercises is to be strong enough to handle that." And Westbrook didn't exactly unravel in the eighth. He served up a ground-ball single to Jorge Posada. Then he tried to sneak a sinker past Granderson. The pitch did not hang. It was low in the zone. But Granderson pounded it out to right for a 421-foot poke that made it 3-2. "He's a good low-ball hitter," Westbrook said of Granderson. "I was trying to keep the ball down and get a double play. He hit a homer." Said Granderson: "I was just trying to extend the rally and got the ball out of the ballpark." That was the ballgame. The Indians didn't recover against the Yankees' bullpen. The only victory here for the Tribe was the debatable glory of preventing A-Rod from reaching 600 before his 35th birthday, which comes Tuesday. Closer Chris Perez got Rodriguez to pop out in the ninth, ensuring the chase would live on. "I went after him," Perez said. "I even threw him a hanging slider the second pitch. He took it. If there had been nobody on, I would have thrown him all heaters. I think he's starting to feel it. He's starting to get aggressive. That could be good for us." But as this loss proved, whether the Indians successfully avoid 600 in their home park or not, there is plenty of Yankee power to go around.