Indians rough up Zito to stay atop wild-card race

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Jake Westbrook took an unconventional route to
his career-high 15th victory, just like the one the Cleveland
Indians may follow to the AL playoffs.

In April, Westbrook went 0-5, losing two complete games. By the
middle of June, things weren't much better as the Cleveland
right-hander was 2-9.

It was no different for the Indians, who had a 9-14 first month
and were going nowhere.

"I guess it's kind of a not-give-up attitude," Westbrook said.
"We've bounced back."

Westbrook (15-14) pushed his record over .500 for the first time this
season on Wednesday night as Ronnie Belliard's three-run homer sent
the wild card-leading Indians to a 6-4 win over the Oakland

Belliard's shot in the seventh on Barry Zito's 122nd and final
pitch allowed Cleveland to remain one game up on the New York
Yankees for the wild card, and the Indians extended their lead over
the A's to 3½ games.

With Chicago's loss at Kansas City, the Indians also moved
within five games of first in the AL Central, the closest they've
been in the division since April 21.

"We can't worry about that until the end," Westbrook said.

Belliard fell behind 0-2 in the count before pulling a pitch
from Zito (13-12) over the wall in left. The Indians went on to
their ninth win in 10 games and are a major league-best 30-11 since
July 31.

Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer for the A's, who with a win
would have moved into a tie with the Los Angeles Angels atop the AL
West. Oakland opens a four-game series in Boston on Thursday.

"We're still focused on the division," said A's manager Ken
Macha. "We knew this would be a difficult road trip."

Westbrook didn't give up a hit until the sixth and allowed just
two in seven strong innings. The right-hander, who opened the
season 1-7, is 9-2 in 11 starts since July 21 and already has one
more win than he had in 2004, when he made the All-Star team.

"I'm pretty proud of that," Westbrook said. "To have a 2-9
record and come back and be 15-14. You can't ever hang your head."

Bob Wickman gave up a one-out homer to Mark Kotsay and walked
Scott Hatteberg with two outs in the ninth before striking out Dan
Johnson for his league-leading 41st save.

The Indians wasted several scoring chances against Zito, who was
hurt by five walks and struggled with plate umpire Randy Marsh's
tight strike zone.

With the score tied 3-3, Jhonny Peralta opened the seventh with
a single and Zito walked Travis Hafner. The lefty struck out Victor
Martinez, and with Belliard due up, Macha came out to visit Zito.

"Barry's our ace," Macha said. "The guy we pin all our hopes
on. He's got the right to determine the outcome of the game."

Macha stuck with Zito, who made Belliard chase the first two
pitches out of the zone. But he hung a breaking ball on his next
pitch and Belliard made him pay.

"That was a pitch that was going to bounce in the dirt, you
can't guard against that," Zito said. "He was sitting curveball
and he got the barrel out."

Westbrook took a no-hit bid into the sixth but Marco Scutaro
followed a leadoff walk to Jay Payton by dropping a soft liner to
center. Swisher followed his 18th homer to tie it 3-3.

Helped by four walks from Zito, 11 of the first 22 Indians
reached base but Cleveland didn't score until there was one out in
the fifth. Victor Martinez's sacrifice fly made it 1-0, Belliard
hit an RBI single, and the Indians went ahead 3-0 when Eric Chavez
booted Jose Hernandez's grounder to third.

Westbrook wasn't fazed by the A's or a 49-minute rain delay in
the middle of the second inning. The right-hander retired the first
12 before giving up a leadoff walk to Chavez in the fourth.

But Westbrook got out of the inning on a seldom-seen double
play. Hatteberg hit a low liner to second baseman Belliard, who
couldn't handle it near his ankles but threw to first baseman

Hernandez caught the ball, and alertly tagged Chavez, who had
scampered back and was standing on first. However, according to the
rules, he must advance and was called out by first base umpire Jim
Wolf. Hernandez then stepped on the bag to force Hatteberg.

Macha argued that Belliard intentionally dropped the ball, which
would have permitted Chavez to stay at first.

"I thought he dropped it on purpose," Macha said. "The guy
caught everything against us and was all over the field."

Game notes
Westbrook's nine wins since the All-Star break ties him
with Houston's Andy Pettitte for the most in the majors... Zito has
thrown a major league-high 3,488 pitches. ... Indians RHP Matt
Miller, on the DL with elbow tendinitis, went home to Hattiesburg,
Miss., last weekend. His house endured Hurricane Katrina's wrath,
while others weren't as lucky. "I feel sorry for the people on the
[Gulf] coast," he said. "The town I live in, I've never seen
anything like it. But's it's 10 times worse on the coast." ... A's
SS Bobby Crosby resumed hitting off a tee as he recovers from a
broken left ankle.