At its surface, the pitching match up for game 3 of the American League Championship Series seemed to be rather one sided. While Boston Red Sox starter, John Lackey, should demand respect after his resurgent season, going up against a former Cy Young Award winner such as Justin Verlander figures to tip the scales to a certain degree. But there's a reason they play the game on the field rather than on paper--everything is not as it seems.
As is per usual for the former 20 game winner, Justin Verlander was on top of his game. The Tigers ace held the Red Sox bats silent through the first 4.2 innings, allowing only a walk to David Ortiz while otherwise striking out 8. But keeping in step with Verlander was Boston's starter, John Lackey. While the 6'6 right hander did allow two first inning singles, he also struck out 6 Tigers over his first 5 innings of work.
Since it's been a momentous occasion over the past two ALCS games to know when the Red Sox offense collects its first hit, Boston fans were happy to see the Red Sox get their first knock in the fifth inning. Jonny Gomes nabbed the Red Sox first hit on a sharp groundball that Tigers shortstop, Jhonny Peralta lunged and speared to his left but fired into the dirt at first base. Gomes' hustle was rewarded as the official scorer ruled it a hit rather than an error.
The fifth inning also saw the Tigers come up with some offense as well. The afore mentioned Tiger shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, lead off the bottom of the inning with a double. However, John Lackey was able to retire the next three batters in succession, highlighted by an 8 pitch battle with Omar Infante that ended in a strike out.
With both teams starters dealing, the subsequent lack of offense seemed to make each pitch more important than the next. But the most important pitch of this game turned out to also be Justin Verlander's 100th pitch. After seeing 3 fastballs and 2 sliders, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli had run the count full. Hoping for a strike out, Verlander reached back and whipped a 96 MPH fastball middle-away to Napoli. As he normally does, Napoli took a big hack at the Verlander offering and got every bit of it, sending it over the left-center field wall for a solo home run and giving the Red Sox the 1-0 lead. While Verlander went on to retire the side, the Red Sox offense had finally come to the aid of John Lackey.
Knowing that runs were going to be hard to come by, Lackey took the mound in the 7th inning trying to protect his one run advantage. After Lackey retired Prince Fielder on 2 pitches, Victor Martinez grounded a base hit into center field. Although Lackey was able to retire the next batter on a fly out to right, John Farrell felt it best to replace Lackey with Craig Breslow. The left handed Breslow went on to retire the side in the 7th and would come back out in the 8th where he walked and struck out a batter.
The 8th inning would then see Junichi Tazawa have an incredible outing considering the circumstances After allowing Torri Hunter to reach on a single, which also pushed Breslow's walked batter to third, Tazawa was set to face Miguel Cabrera. But Tazawa didn't crumble under the pressure of facing the reigning AL MVP. The Boston right hander through 4 fastballs between 94 and 95 MPH, away from Cabrera and struck him out.
Now with two outs and yet another threat in Prince Fielder set to bat, John Farrell elected to bring in the Red Sox closer, Koji Uehara, for a 4 out save. Like Tazawa did before him, Uehara struck out the heavy hitting first baseman on three pitches to end the 8th inning threat. To complete the 4 out save, Uehara first allowed a single to Victor Martinez to lead off the ninth. Now with the winning run at the plate, Uehara again rose to the occasion and induced a ground ball to short stop for a double play. Uehara, an out away from securing the victory, then had a seven pitch battle with Alex Avila before finally striking him out on a splitter.
While the Red Sox win on Monday does give them a 2-1 series lead in the ALCS, Tuesdays game becomes an important one to win for both sides. The Red Sox don't want to let Detroit tie the series up and have to see another Tigers ace again. At the same time, Detroit doesn't want to fall to a 3-1 deficit with Jon Lester scheduled for a potentially pivitol game 5. For this most important game 4, the Red Sox will send Jake Peavy to the mound while Detroit will oppose with Doug Fister.