By Noah Trister
DETROIT: The last time Justin Verlander took the mound, his team’s season was on the line.
The stakes won’t be quite that high for his next start, but the Detroit Tigers could certainly use another brilliant performance from their star right-hander after blowing a chance to take control of the American League Championship Series.
The Tigers wasted a five-run lead Sunday night in Game 2, allowing the Boston Red Sox to even the series with a 6-5 victory. David Ortiz’s tying grand slam in the eighth inning snapped the Red Sox out of a hitting funk, and if they go on to win the pennant, there might be little doubt about the turning point in this series.
Verlander’s job is to steady the defending AL champion Tigers.
“Obviously that was a tough one,” Verlander said. “At the same time you know this series is going to be a dogfight. Nobody is going to walk over anybody.”
The Tigers looked like they were ready to roll through the series after they won the opener and took a 5-0 lead in Game 2. Anibal Sanchez held the Red Sox hitless for six innings on Saturday, and Max Scherzer allowed a run and two hits in seven innings Sunday.
The Red Sox trailed 5-1 in the eighth in Game 2 before a remarkable rally against four relievers. Ortiz tied it with a two-out grand slam off closer Joaquin Benoit.
“I made a mistake that I take full responsibility for,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I should have just reminded him that we didn’t want Ortiz to really beat us. He tried to make a great pitch. He tried to get it low and away out of the strike zone, but he didn’t get it there.”
The Red Sox managed to win one of two at home despite striking out 32 times — eight more than the previous record for the first two games of an LCS, set by the Los Angeles Dodgers a day earlier. The Red Sox are hopeful their bats will come around, starting against Verlander in Game 3 at Comerica Park tonight.
“I think we certainly gained some confidence in the last couple innings,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “The work of Sanchez and Scherzer has been nothing short of spectacular. ... We feel like tomorrow’s starter in Verlander is going to be a similar, if not a more difficult, challenge than what we faced already.”
After a pedestrian regular season by his standards, Verlander pitched 15 scoreless innings in the division series against the Oakland Athletics, including eight in a winner-take-all Game 5. The Tigers have taken no-hitters into at least the sixth inning in three consecutive games, a remarkable feat even for a staff that set a major league record with 1,428 strikeouts during the regular season.
The starters have picked up where they left off during last year’s American League playoffs, when the Tigers’ rotation posted a 1.02 ERA through the division series and ALCS. The Tigers won the AL pennant before being swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
“We’ve got a starting rotation that’s relentless, and I said that before the series started. Every guy has their unique ability to shut down a team in their own way,” Verlander said. “I’m just one of the four guys right now.”
The Red Sox will send John Lackey to the mound to face Verlander. Lackey was able to make 29 starts during the regular season, posting a 3.52 ERA after missing all of 2012 following elbow ligament-replacement surgery.