MLB Playoffs

Red Sox's Lackey outduels Tigers' Verlander in Game 3

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey throws against the Detroit Tigers during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park in Detroit, Oct. 15, 2013. (RICK OSENTOSKI/USA Today)

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey throws against the Detroit Tigers during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park in Detroit, Oct. 15, 2013. (RICK OSENTOSKI/USA Today)


It’s been hard to ignore the gaudy numbers that the Detroit Tigers’ starting pitchers have been putting up in these baseball playoffs but in the hours before Tuesday’s third game of the American League Championship Series, Jake Peavy decided enough was enough.

“It’s been funny for me to watch all the coverage of the game coming in,” said Peavy, who will start for the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 on Wednesday.

“I have heard John Lackey’s name mentioned three or four times. Almost like we didn’t have a starter going today. Our starter is pretty good, too. Everybody in our clubhouse loves John, loves his demeanor. He’s got that old school Texan makeup that we all love, a Nolan Ryan kind of attitude.”

Lackey then went out and made a soothsayer of his rotation-mate, matching Detroit ace Justin Verlander zero for zero. In the end, it was Verlander who blinked first, allowing a one-out, seventh-inning home run to Mike Napoli that was the difference in a 1-0 Boston win that gives the Red Sox a 2-1 series advantage.

Verlander was once again spectacular, tossing eight innings, allowing just four hits and collecting 10 strikeouts.

But Lackey put up a zero in the one spot on the linescore that counts, working 6 2/3 innings, allowing four hits, striking out eight and the Tigers couldn’t push across even one run.

Napoli came to the plate with one out in the seventh inning. In six official at-bats in the series, he had struck out six times, including twice Tuesday against Verlander

This time, Verlander made a rare mistake to Napoli. With his 100th pitch of the night, he delivered a full-count 96mph fastball right over the middle of the plate and Napoli didn’t miss it, sending it on a line into the Red Sox bullpen in left-centre field.

Twice in the first five innings the Tigers had a runner at third base but couldn’t cash him in. In the first inning, they made solid contact against Lackey, including a pair of singles, but the three outs were all solidly-struck balls to the outfield.

From there, Lackey erased the next 10 hitters he faced until Jhonny Peralta doubled to lead off the fifth inning. A groundout to second base by catcher Alex Avila advanced Peralta to third base. Lackey then engaged Omar Infante in a tenacious duel and eventually struck him out. No. 9 hitter Andy Dirks hit a weak groundball to Pedroia at second to end the inning.

Through all this, Verlander was stunningly good, as advertised, keeping the Bosox hitless through four innings for the third successive game in the series, though David Ortiz gave his last pitch of the fourth inning a long ride to left-centre field before it settled in Andy Dirks’ glove. At Fenway Park, it would have landed across the street.

Verlander breezed into the fifth inning and fanned the first two men he faced before Jonny Gomes broke up the no-hit bid with an infield single that shortstop Peralta gloved to his left but made a poor low throw that first baseman Prince Fielder could not handle.

Because of the dominance of Detroit’s starting pitchers it has been easy to overlook what the Boston rotation has done and all three starters so far, with the exception of one inning by Clay Buchholz in Game 2, have been outstanding, none better than Lackey was Tuesday.

He looked hittable in the first inning, allowing two singles and a couple of loud outs, made his adjustments, then settled in for a long night.

After Prince Fielder’s single in the first inning put runners at first and third base, Lackey set down 10 straight and 17 of the next 18 hitters he faced before Victor Martinez singled with one out in the seventh. He struck out eight and had the Tigers hitters guessing wrong all evening.

Manager John Farrell did not hesitate to go to his bullpen after Lackey got Peralta to pop out in short-right field, bringing in lefty specialist Craig Breslow. After walking Alex Avila, Breslow got Omar Infante on a groundball to second to end the threat.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers put runners at first and third with one out but relievers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, in turn, struck out Miguel Cabrera and then Fielder to preserve the lead.

Tazawa gave up a single to lead off the ninth but then got a double-play ball and a strikeout of Avila to end it.

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