By Noah Trister
DETROIT: Once again this October, one run was enough.
John Lackey edged Justin Verlander in the latest duel of these pitching-rich playoffs, and the Boston Red Sox’s bullpen shut down the Detroit Tigers’ big boppers with the game on the line to lift the Red Sox to a 1-0 win Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.
Mike Napoli homered off Verlander in the seventh inning, and the Tigers’ 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 postseason, is good pitching.”
Despite three consecutive 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 tonight at Comerica Park, with Jake Peavy scheduled to start for the Red Sox against Doug Fister.
Lackey allowed four hits in 6⅔ 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,” Red Sox 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, the Red Sox 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 with the Red Sox 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.
“He just never gave in,” Saltalamacchia said.
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.”
In the past 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 the Tigers’ three starters in the ALCS 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.
The Tigers stranded runners on first and third in the first, then wasted Jhonny Peralta’s leadoff double in the fifth.