On Saturday the Cleveland Indians and fans of the team said goodbye to a long time fan-favorite, Jake Westbrook. Tribe fans had a long relationship with the veteran sinker-ball specialist. The Indians acquired Westbrook in 2000 when they sent slugger David Justice to the New York Yankees. At the time, and for a while afterwards the trade was blasted and it never was a very highly regarded trade deadline deal for the Indians. At the time Westbrook was a struggling young pitcher trying to find his way to the big leagues, and the Indians were the team who gave him his first real opportunity.
It is with a heavy heart that Cleveland says farewell to this years opening day starter, but it was a great journey watching one of the most consistent and solid starters in the league year in and year out. Westbrook turned in a very solid tenure with the Tribe that saw him rise to the level of All-Star in the American League and become a hero with the Indians fan based. He lost 2 years of his career to Tommy John Surgery and complications in his recovery. He was able to return this year with very little expectations surrounding his performance and the performance of the young team he was a part of. Everyone knew coming into the year that Westbrook was most likely the Indians biggest trade chip, and despite having time to prepare for the trade, fans (myself included) still find it hard to cope with the team trading away a fan favorite yet again… and the 3rd time in as many seasons that the opening day starter was sent away.
Westbrook boasts a 69-69 record in his career with the Indans, he lost his only 2 decisions as a Yankee giving him an overall record of 69-71 going into his debut with the Cardinals Monday night. Westbrook was arguably at his best during the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons when he won 14, 15 and 15 games respectively. He was the Indians #3 and most consistent starter throughout those seasons, and in the Indians now infamous 2007 playoff run he got off to a slow start recovering from an oblique injury, he finished the season at 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, but was his best that season in the playoffs. He was 1-2 with an ERA over 5, but that was largely due to a rough outing against the Yankees. Against the Red Sox he was able to shut down the powerful Red Sox lineup for 12 and 2/3 innings giving up just 5 runs in his two starts. He was the best pitcher in the series for the Tribe while CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona imploded and cost the team the series. His lone All-Star season was in 2004 when he won 14 games and lost 9 while posting an ERA of 3.38 which is his career best to date. The former 1st round pick of the Rockies never would get his ERA down that low again but in 2008 when he first injured his arm, he was off to a great start for the Indians before their season came crashing down. His All-Star season was his career best across the board, he posted career highs in IP, ERA, and complete games in which he was near tops in the AL. 2004 was just the start of an awesome 4 year run for Westbrook and the season earned him a big contract.
That big contract got him to $10,ooo,ooo a year towards the end of his tenure in Cleveland and while it may have been a bit too much to pay for a middle of the rotation starter, it was about market value of someone of Westbrook’s skill set. The thing that made his contract look especially rough for the Indians was his injury that cost him 2 years of his contract. I will always remember the times Westbrook came up big by getting his clutch ground ball outs and double play grounders. The times he handcuffed the Yankees like he did in his last start against them for the Indians just last week, and while he came out with a loss, he was masterful in that outing. Jake will always be remembered as a class act who was a big time fan favorite in Cleveland. Hopefully the Indians are able to bring him back to be a veteran anchor to the young rotation in the off-season. Only time will tell if the trade the Indians made to rid themselves of the rest of his large contract, but for now until we see him again in Cleveland, Jake will be missed by all. Please, feel free to comment and share your fondest memories of watching the Jakester pitch for the Indians.