The Red Sox have taken a 2-1 lead in the 2013 ALCS thanks to one big swing of the bat from Mike Napoli and an exceptional pitching performance from John Lackey.
It's hard to believe, but much like the first two games of the series, Game 3 also started off with a good chunk of no-hit innings from the Detroit Tigers' starting pitcher. In this case, Justin Verlander. While the Red Sox showed the smallest signs of progress in the first, managing to not strike out (sadly, yes, that is significant progress), Verlander quickly remedied that, sitting down six straight batters by way of the K after allowing David Ortiz to reach with a walk to start the second inning.
And, frankly, John Lackey didn't look likely to follow suit. At least not in the first. His curveball was working, but his fastball was kind of flat, and consistently up in the zone when it wasn't being bounced in for a ball. The tigers turned that into a lot of loud contact, but enough of the five fly balls/line drives Lackey allowed in the inning stayed in the air long enough for Red Sox to settle underneath.
And from there, while Red Sox fans had their attention focused on the continuing inability of their Red Sox to reach base, John Lackey actually started matching Justin Verlander pitch-for-pitch. A 1-2-3 second ended with two swinging strikeouts of Alex Avila and Omar Infante. Lackey extended that strikeout streak to four straight in the third before getting a weak ground ball from Torii Hunter, and even struck out Miguel Cabrera in a 1-2-3 fourth.
The Red Sox would finally get their first hit of the game with two down in the fifth, Jonny Gomes hitting a ground ball up the middle that Jhonny Peralta reached, but not get to first ahead of Gomes. Stephen Drew grounded out behind him, however, and the game went to the bottom of the inning, where it looked like the Tigers would finally go ahead, with Jhonny Peralta leading off the inning with a double to center.
Once again, though, Lackey was up to the task of getting out of the inning with no runs allowed, picking up a key strikeout of Omar Infante with Peralta at third and one out in the process. He would go back to the 1-2-3 frame in the sixth, giving the Red Sox yet another chance to get on the board in the seventh.
This time, though, they actually did. With one out, Mike Napoli stepped to the plate in the midst of an 0-for-11 slump, having been made to look foolish by Verlander in his first two trips to the plate.This time, though, Mike Napoli was able to lay off of three balls, running the count full, and Verlander's 3-2 offering was a 96 mile per hour fastball that Napoli got plenty of, launching a solo homer to left field.
It was all the Red Sox would need.
Oh, sure, the fans may have wanted more. The failure to score Stephen Drew after he reached second base to start the eighth inning--Will Middlebrooks' fly ball to left failed to move him to third--loomed large when Craig Breslow walked Austin Jackson with one out and Junichi Tazawa allowed Torii Hunter to single behind him, putting Jackson at third with one down. But Tazawa came through with his biggest at bat of the season, striking out none other than Miguel Cabrera before Koji Uehara came in to retire Prince Fielder with three straight swinging strikes. A leadoff hit in the ninth once again put some fear into the hearts of Sox fans, but a double play from Jhonny Peralta and strikeout from Alex Avila ended the game, and put the Red Sox into an improbable 2-1 lead in the series.
Read more Red Sox:
- ALCS 2013: David Ortiz grand slam GIFs
- Baseball America names Xander Bogaerts the #1 International League prospect
- Red Sox face the Tigers in the playoffs for first time ever
- Remembering two great Craig Breslow deals
- October's brutal, relentless pursuit