It was another pitcher’s duel in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. This time it was Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Boston’s John Lackey hooking up and matching each other pitch for pitch.
But somebody had to win and on this night it was the Red Sox, 1-0 as Mike Napoli homered for the only run a brilliant Lackey and the bullpen would need. The Red Sox now lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.
Napoli broke a scoreless deadlock in the top of the seventh inning as he hit Verlander’s 100th pitch of the game ( 96 mph fastball) over the left field fence for a 1-0 Red Sox lead. Prior to the blast, Napoli had been 0-6 with 6 strikeouts in this ALCS and 2-19 with 10 strikeouts overall this postseason.
But if Napoli had the game’s only highlight, Lackey was the story. He was lights out in his 6 2/3 innings scattering four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts and, most importantly, regaining his reputation as a big game pitcher.
The Tigers immediately put the pressure right back on Lackey after the Napoli home run in the bottom of the seventh inning as Victor Martinez singled with one out. After Lackey retired Jhonny Peralta on a fly to right for the second out of the inning, manager John Farrell elected to bring in lefty Craig Breslow to match up with lefty hitting catcher Alex Avila, despite the fact Lackey was only at 97 pitches. Lackey barked at Farrell as he walked to the mound and he was almost right about wanting to stay in the game.
That’s because Breslow promptly walked Avila to put runners at first and second before wiggling out of the inning by inducing an inning ending 4-6 force out to end the threat.
Detroit would not go quietly and really kept the pressure on the bullpen in the eighth as, with one out, Breslow walked Austin Jackson. Junich Tazawa relieved Breslow and was greeted by a Torii Hunter single to put runners at first and second, bringing Miguel Cabrera to the plate.
Victor Martinez led off the ninth with a single off Uehara but he was quickly erased as Peralta grounded into a huge double play. Avila then ran the count full on Uehara before striking out to end things.
The Red Sox absolutely stole this game from the Tigers. Verlander was in vintage form working eight innings allowing just the one run on four hits with one walk and ten strikeouts, including the side twice in a row in the second and third innings.
Yet, here the Red Sox are up 2-1 and having won a game the Tigers and their fans expected (and maybe had) to win. They even survived a 17-minute power outage at Comerica Park in the second inning that did not affect either starting pitcher.