Napoli's homer enough for Red Sox to beat Tigers, Verlander
DETROIT — Once again this October, one run was enough.
John Lackey edged Justin Verlander in the latest duel of these pitching-rich playoffs, and Boston's bullpen shut down Detroit's big boppers with the game on the line to lift the Red Sox over the Tigers, 1-0, on Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Mike Napoli homered off Verlander in the seventh inning, and Detroit's best chance to rally fell short in the eighth when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder struck out with runners at the corners.
“The runs are pretty stingy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This is what it's about in the postseason is good pitching.”
Despite three straight gems by their starters, the Tigers suddenly trail in a best-of-seven series they seemed to control just two days ago. Game 4 is Wednesday night at Comerica Park, with Jake Peavy scheduled to start for the Red Sox against Doug Fister.
Lackey allowed four hits in 6 2⁄3 innings, striking out eight without a walk in a game that was delayed 17 minutes in the second inning because lights on the stadium towers went out.
“I think that little time off gave him a chance to slow down a little bit. He was excited and pumped that first inning,” Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Kind of getting excited with his slider, throwing a little too hard and leaving it over the middle, but he was still pretty effective.”
It was the second 1-0 game in this matchup between the highest-scoring teams in the majors. That's been the theme throughout these playoffs, which have included four 1-0 scores and seven shutouts in the first 26 games.
After rallying from a five-run deficit to even the series in Game 2, Boston came away with a win in Detroit against one of the game's best pitchers. The Tigers had a chance for their own comeback in the eighth when Austin Jackson drew a one-out walk and Torii Hunter followed with a single.
But Cabrera, who failed to reach base for the first time in 32 postseason games for the Tigers, never looked comfortable against Junichi Tazawa, swinging and missing at the first two offerings and eventually chasing an outside pitch for strike three.
“He just did a great job pumping the fastballs away,” Saltalamacchia said. “He's so sneaky with that 94-95 (mph); it's tough to hit.”
Fielder was even more overmatched against Koji Uehara, striking out on three pitches.
Uehara also pitched the ninth for a save, ensuring that Lackey's fine performance wouldn't go to waste.
Lackey pitched poorly his first two seasons in Boston after signing an $82.5 million, five-year contract in December 2009. Then he missed all of 2012 following elbow ligament-replacement surgery.
He's been better this season, and he kept the Tigers off balance Tuesday by effectively changing speeds.
Napoli's first at-bat in the majors was against Verlander on May 4, 2006, at Comerica Park. He homered then, too.
“He's tough. He was on his game tonight. He was keeping all of us off balance,” said Napoli, who rubbed his bat on teammate Jonny Gomes' beard before going up to the plate. “I got to a 3-2 count and put a good swing on a pitch, was able to drive it.”