DETROIT — John Lackey pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and three relievers made the lone run hold up as the Red Sox defeated the Tigers, 1-0, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
The Red Sox now lead the series, 2-1.
Lackey, bumped from the second to third spot in the Red Sox rotation for this series, was exceptional, matching the Tigers’ Justin Verlander out for out.
The Red Sox posted the game’s lone run when Mike Napoli hit a 96-mph Verlander fastball into the left field seats in the top of the seventh inning.
Koji Uehara recorded the save with 1.1 innings of one-hit baseball. He struck out Alex Avila to end it.
But the most crucial out of the night came in the eighth inning — and it wasn’t the exceptional Uehara who recorded it.
In the biggest moment of his career so far, Junichi Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera on four pitches — all fastballs — with runners at the corners and no outs.
Then closer Uehara came on to record a three-pitch strikeout of Prince Fielder as the Sox escaped the threat.
The inning began innocently — and strangely — enough, as light-hitting Jose Iglesias pinch-hit for Andy Dirks against Breslow. Iglesias struck out on three pitches.
But Austin Jackson, who walked just 52 times in 614 plate appearances this season, worked a five-pitch free-pass, and Torii Hunter moved him to third with a sharp single to right, setting the stage for the Tigers’ two thumpers to try to tie the score or put Detroit ahead.
With Tazawa and Uehara warming, Farrell turned to the former, and Tazawa delivered. Cabrera had been having trouble with fastballs against Lackey earlier in the game, and Tazawa threw nothing but heat away to record the crucial strikeout.
With the lefthanded Fielder coming to the plate, Farrell summed Uehara, who needed just three pitches to put away the Tigers’ first baseman.
Middle of the eighth, Red Sox 1, Tigers 0: Stephen Drew leads off with a single to right and moves to second on Torii Hunter’s misplay, but Verlander is Verlander, and the Sox can’t add a second run. Will Middlebrooks and Jacoby Ellsbury fly out, and Shane Victorino ends the threat by lining softly to Jhonny Peralta.
End of the seventh, Red Sox 1, Tigers 0: John Lackey’s night is done after just 97 pitches and against his will, but he departs with the lead and knowing he pitched an extraordinary game.
John Farrell removed Lackey after Jhonny Peralta flew to right field for the second out of the innings. That at-bat followed Victor Martinez’s sharp single, and Lackey did go to a 3-0 count on Peralta before retiring him, so perhaps Farrell saw signs that he was slipping.
Craig Breslow came in for Lackey and walked Alex Avila, which sparked the Comerica Park crowd. But he got Omar Infante to ground routinely to second for the final out.
The final line on Lackey: 6.2 innings 4 hits, no walks, 8 strikeouts, and a 1-0 lead after 97 pitches.
Middle of the seventh, Red Sox 1, Tigers 0: There was probably never any doubt about Mike Napoli returning to the Red Sox’ starting lineup after sitting for Mike Carp in Game 2.
Still, John Farrell suddenly looks somewhat prescient for putting Napoli back in the No. 5 spot.
The Red Sox’ streak-prone first baseman just did what often seems impossible: he caught up with a Justin Verlander 96-mph fastball and deposited it in the left field seats for the first run of the game.
Napoli, who entered the game hitting .118 this postseason, hit his first homer of the playoffs on a 3-2 pitch from Verlander.
Verlander retired the next two batters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jonny Gomes, on strikeouts. But the first run of the game belongs to the Red Sox.
End of the sixth, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: How about this performance by John Lackey. He just keeps mowing ’em down.
The righthander needed nine pitches in the sixth to strikeout Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, then retired Miguel Cabrera on a harmless pop to first base for the third out.
The Red Sox get their second hit and first real scoring threat in their half, but Verlander shut down any hopes they had of scoring the first run.
Lackey has allowed three hits through six innings with eight strikeouts. He hasn’t walked a batter and has thrown 88 pitches. Exceptional.
With one out, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a sharp single to center. Ellsbury, who led the majors with 52 stolen bases this season, had Verlander’s attention, drawing five throws to first. Ellsbury didn’t steal with Shane Victorino at-bat. But after the Sox’ No. 2 hitter flew to Dirks in left, Ellsbury advanced to second on a wild pitch with Dustin Pedroia at the plate.
But Pedroia, who is now hitting just .250 this postseason, grounded to short to end the threat on Verlander’s 90th pitch of the game.
End of the fifth, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: There’s more than one exceptional pitching performance going on a Comerica Park right now.
John Lackey worked around a leadoff double to Jhonny Peralta — which ended a stretch of 10 consecutive Tigers retired by the Red Sox starter — to keep the game scoreless through five.
Alex Avila moved Peralta to third on a broken-bat groundout to second. But then he recorded a huge strikeout of Omar Infante, getting him to swing at a cutter to cap an eight-pitch battle. He then retired Andy Dirks on a soft grounder to Dustin Pedroia.
As for the top of the inning, go ahead and say it: Jose Iglesias would have had it.
The Red Sox got their first hit of the game off Verlander when Jonny Gomes hit slow roller up the middle.
Jhonny Peralta, starting a shortstop instead of the defensively superior Iglesias, was slow to field the ball, and Fielder could not handle his throw at the other end.
It wasn’t a hard hit for Gomes, but it was a legitimate one. He was left stranded at first when Stephen Drew grounded to second.
This is fourth straight postseason game that the Tigers starter has taken a no-hitter into the fifth or beyond. Verlander did it twice, including during Game 5 of the ALDS against the Athletics.
End of the fourth, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: Hard to ask for more out of Lackey at this point.
He sailed through his third straight 1-2-3 inning, having retired 10 in a row. He hasn’t allowed a baserunner since Prince Fielder’s two-out single in the first.
He breezed through the heart of the Tigers’ order in the fourth, striking out Cabrera swinging on a 92 mph fastball before getting Fielder and Martinez to ground out.
In the top half, David Ortiz gave the Comerica Park crowd a scare, driving a Verlander pitch deep to left with two outs in the inning.
But Andy Dirks tracked it down in front of the wall for the final out. The Sox remain without a hit.
The fourth was Verlander’s second inning in which he did not record a strikeout. Victorino popped to Avila, and Pedroia flew to left before Ortiz’s long but ultimately fruitless drive.
End of the third, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: John Lackey is holding up his end of the bargain for the Red Sox — including piling up a few strikeouts of his own.
Lackey struck out the first two batters of the third — Andy Dirks and the struggling Austin Jackson — to bring his total of consecutive strikeouts. The streak ended when he got Torii Hunter to ground softly to second base.
Meanwhile, Verlander is on his game even by his high standards.
He’s now struck out six consecutive Red Sox hitters, including Jacoby Ellsbury to end the top of the third on a curveball so vicious that it may be illegal in some states.
He got Stephen Drew swinging on a 94-mph fastball before striking out Will Middlebrooks and Ellsbury looking.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: The Red Sox are still looking for their first hit.
End of the second, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: Play resumes after a 17-minute delay.
Lackey looked a bit annoyed as he had to wait for Shane Victorino to return to the field, but it didn’t affect his performance. He breezed through a 1-2-3 bottom of the second in 15 pitches, striking out Alex Avila and Omar Infante for the final two outs.
No explanation has been given so far for what caused the outage. And the delay in the game may not have been necessary: it’s still light enough to play.
The lights went out after Tigers starter Justin Verlander struck out Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jonny Gomes in his 26-pitch second inning following a David Ortiz walk.
Lackey paced in the dugout for much of the delay, then had to wait for right fielder Shane Victorino to return to the field before the game resumed.
Middle of the second inning, delay: Well, get ready for lots of references to Justin Verlander’s lights-out performance should the Tigers win this one.
After Verlander struck out Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jonny Gomes in the first following a David Ortiz walk, the lights went out at Comerica Park, which has led to what we hope is a brief delay.
Verlander was on his game in the top of the second, though Gomes gave him an entertaining battle, fouling off five pitches after falling behind 1-2 before finally succumbing on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Verlander did need 26 pitches to get through the inning.
The lights are coming back on here, so they should be resuming play soon.
End of the first inning, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: One inning down, and one jam escaped by Red Sox starter John Lackey.
On the seventh pitch of his at-bat, Tigers No. 5 hitter and designated hitter Victor Martinez flew softly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center for the third out, leaving runners stranded on the corners.
Torii Hunter’s one-out single went for the game’s first hit, and after Miguel Cabrera — it goes without saying that he’s the “always-dangerous Miguel Cabrera,” right? — flew to Ellsbury, Prince Fielder followed with a hard single to center, moving Hunter to third.
But Lackey escaped by retiring his former batterymate with the 2010 Red Sox.
In Game 1, Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez struck four batters.
Tuesday, Tigers starter Justin Verlander didn’t even throw enough pitches to strike out three — he required just eight pitches to get through the first three batters.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off by grounding to third on the fourth pitch he saw. Shane Victorino saw three pitches before lining softly to second baseman Omar Infante. And Dustin Pedroia flew to right on the first pitch he saw.
All three out were recorded on four-seam fastballs by Verlander.
Pregame: Red Sox manager John Farrell made some interesting decisions for the Game 3 lineup. Righthanded-hitting Jonny Gomes gets the start against Tigers righthander Justin Verlander, with Daniel Nava, who had the Sox’ lone hit in Game 3, starting the game on the bench.
One reason for Farrell’s call is Verlander’s reverse-split this year. No one hit him particularly well, but righthanders had better success (..275 batting average/.327 on-base percentage/.412 slugging) than did lefties (.237/.307/.351).
But Farrell said more than that went into his decision.
“With Jonny in left field today, I just felt like the ability to keep us right and left alternately pretty much through our entire lineup, and the one thing we discussed yesterday or mentioned yesterday was when we’ve done some things offensively Jonny has been in the middle of it,” said Farrell. “I think he brings a little different personality to our team.
And that’s not to be demeaning to Daniel Nava in any way, just felt like going up against Verlander today, if he’s on, we can probably take those matchups and discard them somewhat. We’re looking at a different lineup, different look today.”
Mike Napoli is also back in the Sox lineup after beginning Game 2 on the bench. For the Tigers, Jhonny Peralta is back at shortstop — Jose Iglesias started there in Game 2 — while Andy Dirks is in left field.
“We’re not getting a lot of production out of left field unless we start Peralta there,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “[Dirks] has done a little bit off Lackey. I thought we’d change it up a little bit and run him out there, maybe get something, catch lightning in a bottle. That’s the lineup. We’ll see how it plays out.”
There aren’t many cities with the rich music history of Detroit, and the Tigers called upon those Motown roots by having The Four Tops sing the National Anthem … Lance Parrish, the catcher on the Tigers’ 1984 World Championship team, threw out the first pitch … There was a moment of silence for Wally Bell, the respected umpire who died of a heart attack Monday at age 48.