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Indians 4, Red Sox 2

Dicey situation

With Matsuzaka ineffective again, Indians win to take control of series

CLEVELAND - He was painfully polite, as he always is, to the very end, which once again came much too soon for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

It is his custom to wait, when he is being taken out of the game, for a reliever to arrive from the bullpen, so Matsuzaka's discomfort was there for all the world to see as he stood there helplessly, before a swarm of towel-waving Indians fans in Jacobs Field, as Mike Timlin jogged in.

The ball was already in the hands of manager Terry Francona. The game, though it still was just the fifth inning, was firmly in the grip of the Indians, who went on to beat the Red Sox, 4-2, to take a two-games-to-one lead in their American League Championship Series before a crowd of 44,402.

"We've been here before," said catcher Jason Varitek, whose two-run home run in the seventh accounted for Boston's only runs. "This team needs to go out and continue to grind."

Kenny Lofton, who at age 40 was brought back to Cleveland for a third go-round with the Tribe, hit a two-run home run in the second inning, his first since returning to the Indians in late July. The Indians strung together two singles, a wild pitch, a walk, and a force play to score twice more in the fifth.

"He's got some magic in his body right now," said Indians first baseman Ryan Garko of Lofton.

The Sox, meanwhile, failed to score despite loading the bases with no outs in the second, Varitek popping out on a backup cutter and Coco Crisp hitting into one of three double plays induced by Indians starter Jake Westbrook.

The Sox, who also hit into three double plays in Game 2, have hit into seven double plays in the first three games, the most ever by any team in the first three games of an LCS.

"That's the way the game is," said Crisp after a night in which Westbrook registered 14 ground ball outs in 6 2/3 innings. "You have to take advantage of your opportunities, especially right now."

How hard did Matsuzaka, who was charged with all four Indians runs, take this one? Long after the game, he was still in uniform, sitting in front of his locker, alternately staring blankly ahead or covering his face with his pitching hand.

"I feel bad for him," Timlin said.

The outcome notwithstanding, Francona said he is not deviating from his plan to have Tim Wakefield pitch Game 4, eschewing the option of bringing back Josh Beckett on short rest to set him up for a possible Game 7 on regular rest.

"If we don't think it was the best thing to do, I don't see why all of a sudden it becomes the better thing to do," Francona said.

Wakefield, a 17-game winner, represents an upgrade over Denny Galehouse, Joe McCarthy's bizarre choice to pitch a one-game playoff against the Indians in 1948 (Galehouse, a former St. Louis Brown, was 36 years old, had won just eight games, and was clearly on his last legs as the triumphant Indians proved by knocking him around).

But there is also plenty of risk in going with Wakefield, who hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 29 and has had two cortisone shots in the back of his right shoulder in the last two months. He pitched a simulated game last week and said he feels fine, but he has won just once in five starts since Aug. 25.

"I feel extremely confident," Timlin said of the Sox' decision to rely on the 41-year-old Wakefield, perhaps his closest friend on the team. "I'd give him the ball in that situation, in every situation."

The Sox will need Wakefield to come up bigger than Matsuzaka, who lasted just 4 2/3 innings - which also is as far as he got in his start against the Angels in the Division Series - and left, trailing 4-0.

"Quality start out of Wakefield. Period. That's it," Varitek said.

Until J.D. Drew singled and Varitek followed with a home run with one out in the seventh, the Sox had been outscored, 12-0, since the fifth inning of Game 2.

The Sox were shut down by the Indians' bullpen for the last 6 2/3 innings of Game 2, and rookie Jensen Lewis, the communications major from Vanderbilt who quelled a Sox uprising in Game 2 by coming in and throwing a double-play ball to Varitek, entered last night and struck out Dustin Pedroia with Julio Lugo aboard on a two-out infield hit to end the seventh.

The Sox haven't had any success against Lewis since Brandon Moss took him deep last year in Game 4 of the Eastern League playoffs, when Lewis was still pitching for the Akron Aeros. They fared no better against Rafael Betancourt (1 inning, 1 K) and Joe Borowski, who went three-up, three-down for the save, which gives him one more in this series than Jonathan Papelbon, who on paper gives the Sox their biggest advantage.

In addition to the three DPs, Westbrook was abetted by a base-running blunder by David Ortiz, who was struck by a batted ball. Ortiz opened the inning with a double, but he foolishly tried to advance on a ground ball hit by Manny Ramírez that was in front of him.

"They weren't holding him and he had a big lead," Francona said. "He took a jab step toward toward third, and I think he realized he was in no-man's land. He stopped and the ball hit him. By that point, he was probably out, anyway."

Ortiz also grounded into a double play with Kevin Youkilis aboard on a walk in the first. And Ramírez, who batted .500 here during the regular season (7 for 14, 2 HRs) and is a career .359 hitter at a ballpark he used to call home, grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the sixth.

Lofton, who was in his first term with the Indians when Ramírez broke in with the club in 1994, had not hit a home run this season since he went deep in his last game as a Ranger, on July 25.

But with two out and Garko aboard on a single in the second, Lofton hit the first pitch he saw from Matsuzaka into the right-field seats, just over the yellow line and just above Drew's glove. It was the seventh first-pitch home run allowed by Matsuzaka this season, the most he has allowed on any count.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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