Boston hold off Tigers behind John Lackey, bullpen

AP, DETROIT, Michigan

Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - Page 20

John Lackey edged Justin Verlander in the latest duel of these pitching-rich playoffs as the Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.

Mike Napoli homered in the seventh inning off Verlander, and Detroit’s attempt at a rally fell short in the eighth when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder both struck out with runners on base.

“The runs are pretty stingy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This is what it’s about in post-season, is good pitching.”

Despite three straight gems by their starting pitchers, the Tigers suddenly trail in a best-of-seven series they seemed to have complete control of only two days ago. Game 4 was to be played yesterday 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 has 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.

However, Cabrera, who failed to reach base for the first time in 32 post-season 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.

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 would not go to waste.

Lackey pitched poorly during his first two seasons in Boston after signing an US$82.5 million, five-year contract in December 2009. Then he missed all of last year following elbow ligament-replacement surgery.

He has been better this season and he kept the Tigers off balance on Tuesday by effectively changing speeds.

Napoli’s first at-bat in the majors was against Verlander on May 4, 2006, at Detroit’s Comerica Park. He homered then as well.

This hit was far more important. In the last two games, the Tigers have started Verlander and 21-game winner Max Scherzer and the Red Sox won both.

Throw in Anibal Sanchez’s outstanding effort in the opener, when the Red Sox managed only a ninth-inning single in a 1-0 loss, and Detroit’s three starters in the series have combined to allow two runs and six hits with 35 strikeouts in 21 innings.

Still, the Tigers have fallen behind because their bullpen blew a four-run lead late in Game 2 and the offense came up empty at home on Tuesday.

Detroit stranded runners on first and third in the first, then wasted Jhonny Peralta’s leadoff double in the fifth. Peralta reached third with one out, but an overanxious Omar Infante struck out and Andy Dirks grounded out.

Verlander needed every bit of focus after Jacoby Ellsbury’s one-out single in the sixth. The Tigers have not held runners well this year, but a number of pickoff throws helped prevent a steal. At one point, Verlander appeared to be pointing at his wrist, as if to ask the dugout if his delivery to the plate was quick enough.

Amid all that, Verlander got Shane Victorino on a flyout and after Ellsbury moved to second anyway on a wild pitch, Dustin Pedroia grounded out to end the threat.

Napoli’s homer was the first run allowed by Verlander since Sept. 18 — he pitched six scoreless innings in each of his last two starts in the regular season before blanking the opposition for 21 innings in the playoffs.

That streak ended with one swing by Napoli.