This is why we watch. Game three of the Red Sox, Tigers ALCS playoff series at Comerica Park proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this kind of baseball provides drama that no other sport can deliver. Justin Verlander, hot off a game five strangling of the Oakland As in the ALDS, was smokin’ once again. His 10 strikeout, eight inning, one run gem under any other circumstance would have been more than enough to secure a 2-1 series edge for the Tigers.
With Tuesday’s 10 Ks, Verlander became playoff baseball’s number one double-digit strikeout king with 64 whiffs in 47 innings of post season pitching ahead of Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson and Cliff Lee. So how did the Tigers get beat and go down 2-1 to the Sox? Boston had one crucial hit and better overall pitching.
John Lackey matched Verlander pitch for pitch through 6.2 innings of eight strikeout, four-hit, shutout ball. Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara combined for 3.1 innings of two-hit, three K, no walk ball. In short, they located precisely, changed speeds and in so doing controlled Detroit’s bat speed.
Verlander indeed was picture (pitcher?) perfect save for one mistake to Mike Napoli in the seventh. Verlander had owned Napoli in two previous at bats, striking him out on typical eye high smoke that Napoli, especially when he’s in one of his undisciplined tears (which he is), just couldn’t resist nor catch up to. The third time around Verlander threw a belt high meatball and Napoli made him pay, driving a solo homer just over the left field wall and providing Boston with the only margin they’d need for the victory. Rewind to May of 2006 when Mike Napoli hits his first MLB career homer off, you guessed it, Justin Verlander. This is why we watch.
The series is shaping up to be a down to the wire nail-biter. The high strikeouts, low runs and resulting drama are creating an agony and ecstasy mood amongst both Detroit and Boston fans. Stay tuned. This is why we watch.