CLEVELAND -- The Lake Erie midges gave new meaning to the term home-field advantage when they crashed Jacobs Field earlier in the postseason. The Boston Red Sox, however, could not blame last night on the bugs.
There were no buzzing insects in Daisuke Matsuzaka's air space when Kenny Lofton took him deep for a two-run homer in the second inning. And nothing appeared to be crawling on any of Boston's hitters as they bounced into three double plays against Indians No. 3 starter Jake Westbrook, often overlooked because of Cleveland aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
Nope, give the credit to the Cleveland Indians, who rode the momentum of Lofton's early shot, chased Matsuzaka in the fifth inning and relied on another stellar bullpen effort to beat the Red Sox, 4-2, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series to take a 2-1 series lead.
Talk about a pest. Lofton, who was batting .346 this October, ripped a first-pitch fastball from Matsuzaka into the right-field bleachers. It was the seventh postseason home run of Lofton's career, including four in League Championship Series, and his first since he homered for the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston.
Jason Varitek crushed a two-run homer off Westbrook in the seventh inning, but Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt and Joe Borowski retired seven straight to clinch the Indians' victory.
Westbrook recovered from his AL Division Series pratfall against the Yankees to allow seven hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings and left to a standing ovation from the announced sellout of 44,402.
"I was able to make good pitches when I needed to," Westbrook said. "It was fun to be a sinkerball pitcher tonight. That's what I live and die by. That's what I threw all night."
Indians manager Eric Wedge, who had to use five relievers in Cleveland's Game 2 win, found Westbrook's outing a relief in itself.
"We needed it," Wedge said. "Our bullpen has been working hard. Jake controlled the ballgame. He did a good job working ahead and keeping the ball on the ground."
Matsuzaka lasted only 4 2/3 innings. In two playoff starts this month, he has given up 13 hits and seven runs in 9 1/3 innings.
"I thought he threw some good pitches," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "But he was in a lot of deep counts."
Last night, Matsuzaka started strong by striking out Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner to end the first inning. But Ryan Garko's one-out single in the second woke up the crowd, and after Matsuzaka struck out Jhonny Peralta, the chants of "Ken-ny, Ken-ny" welcomed Lofton to the batter's box.
Matsuzaka tried to bury a fastball in, but the 93 mph pitch caught way too much of the plate, and Lofton drilled a home run that barely made it over the extended glove of J.D. Drew as he leaped at the wall.
The chants doubled in decibel level as Lofton circled the bases, and after a flashy handshake with Victor Martinez, Lofton jumped from the dugout for his curtain call.
"It was a really pivotal point," Francona said. "[Matsuzaka] throws a fastball that runs, I think, middle-in to Kenny, ends up being a big swing."
In the third inning, Matsuzaka struck out Martinez to strand two runners, but the Indians scored two runs off him in the fifth. With one out, Casey Blake singled and went to second on a wild pitch. With first base open, Grady Sizemore walked, and Cabrera hit an RBI single to center.
Dustin Pedroia made a fine effort for a double play when Hafner followed with a grounder up the middle - sprinting to the bag and throwing across his body before hitting the dirt. But Hafner beat the throw, Sizemore scored and the Indians had a 4-0 lead.
Two days later, the lingering effects from the Game 2 marathon at Fenway Park remained a popular topic. It stretched for 11 innings, dragged for more than five hours and did not end until 1:37 a.m. The Red Sox arrived in Cleveland on Sunday morning basically in time for the breakfast buffet at the team hotel.
When asked how he slept Sunday evening, Francona treated the news conference like an open mike at a comedy club.
"Do you want to know how many times I urinated in the middle of night?" Francona said jokingly. "We can start now."
Francona's sleeping habits aside, the Red Sox definitely appeared groggy against Westbrook, who handled them much better than he did the Yankees (six runs, five innings) in the ALDS. Westbrook was a ground-ball machine early on, and benefited from two double plays and one lucky bounce.
In the first inning, with the shift on for designated hitter David Ortiz, Cabrera snared a bullet one-hopper and started the double play from shallow right field - with third baseman Blake providing the pivot at second.
The Red Sox loaded the bases with none out in the second inning, thanks to an error by first baseman Garko. But Varitek flied out and Peralta turned Coco Crisp's bouncer into a double play.
In the fourth, Ortiz opened with a double high off the left-field wall but sabotaged the budding rally when Manny Ramirez's grounder hit him on the left thigh. It was a bad decision to make a dash for third - Peralta probably would have thrown him out - so Ortiz was doomed as soon he left the base, anyway.
"Because they were not holding him, he had such a big lead and he took a jab step towards third," Francona said. "I think he realized he was in no-man's land, he stopped, and it hit him. By that point, he was probably out anyway."
David Lennon writes for Newsday. The Associated Press contributed to this article.