As was the case Sunday night at Fenway Park, in the postseason one swing can change everything.
Tuesday it was Mike Napoli’s turn as he entered his at-bat in the seventh inning hitless in his previous 11 and was 0-for-6 in the series with six strikeouts. Nonetheless, he hammered a Justin Verlander offering into the left field seats, leading the Red Sox to a 1-0 win over the Tigers in Game 3 of the ALCS in Detroit. The Sox now lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.
Going with the previous theme of the series, the Red Sox were shutdown by Verlander early as it took until the fifth inning for them to record their first hit of the game – an infield Jonny Gomes single. In all, the Red Sox had only two other base runners before the homer, a David Ortiz walk in the second and a Jacoby Ellsbury single in the sixth.
Verlander was outstanding, allowing just the one run over eight innings while striking out 10, but Red Sox starter John Lackey was even better.
The Sox right-hander threw 6 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just four hits, not walking a batter and striking out a postseason-high of eight. After allowing two hits to the first four batters of the game, he quickly settled down, retiring 17-of-18 hitters between the first and seventh innings. To his displeasure, he was pulled with two outs in the seventh and a runner on first at 97 pitches. But pitching to matchups has been how manager John Farrell has managed all postseason long.
Continuing to work the matchups, Craig Breslow entered the game to face the left-handed hitting Alex Avila. Breslow walked Avila, setting up first and second, but regained his composure to get Omar Infante to groundout, ending the threat.
After walking Austin Jackson with one out in the eighth, Breslow was replaced by Junichi Tazawa who allowed a single to Torii Hunter setting up first and third with one out. Tazawa then struck out Miguel Cabrera on four pitches before being lifted in favor of closer Koji Uehara. Uehara picked up right where Tazawa left off, striking out Prince Fielder on three pitches, to end the tense and dramatic eighth.
The ninth wasn’t a cupcake either as Victor Martinez led off with a single, but Uehara induced a double play from Jhonny Peralta and then got Avila swinging to end the game.
Although the starting pitching in this series has been stealing the spotlight, the Red Sox bullpen shouldn’t be far behind in terms of praise as they haven’t allowed a run in their last 11 2/3 innings, dating back to Game 4 of the ALDS, allowing just six hits in that span.
With the win the Red Sox will now look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in Wednesday's Game 4 (8:07 p.m., FOX). Jake Peavy will get the ball for the Red Sox and be opposed by Doug Fister in what is sure to be another edge of your seat October night for the city of Boston.
What they'll be saying: The Red Sox lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, despite only scoring two total runs against the Detroit starters. Before the Napoli home run, Verlander had gone 34 straight innings without allowing a run, dating back to the regular season. They continued with what their approach has been all season in working the pitch count and eventually taking advantage of a mistake ... A lot of was made of Farrell's decisions with his pitchers late in the game, but he stuck to what he has done all season long in working the matchups against the opposing hitters and it paid off in the win as Breslow, Tazawa and Uehara all came through ... It shouldn't be understated how dominant the Tigers have been against the Red Sox hitters as the Sox are a combined 12-for-90 (.133) with 43 strikeouts in the series, but they continue to find ways to win showing how resilient and competitive they are.