Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Napoli has last say in pitchers' duel

Powers Red Sox to 1-0 win with dinger in seventh

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Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz pulls on the beard of Mike Napoli after Napoli hits a home run in the seventh inning during Game 3 of the American League baseball championship series against the Detroit Tigers Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

CARLOS OSORIO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz pulls on the beard of Mike Napoli after Napoli hits a home run in the seventh inning during Game 3 of the American League baseball championship series against the Detroit Tigers Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DETROIT -- Once again this October, one run was enough.

John Lackey edged Justin Verlander in the latest duel of these pitching-rich playoffs, and Boston's bullpen shut down Detroit's big boppers with the game on the line to lift the Red Sox over the Tigers 1-0 Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the AL championship series.

Mike Napoli homered off Verlander in the seventh inning, and Detroit's 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 post-season, is good pitching."

Despite three straight gems by their starters, the Tigers 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 62/3 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'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, 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.

But 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.

"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 in Boston 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 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 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 offence 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.

Verlander retired 14 of the first 15 hitters he faced and took a two-hit shutout into the seventh. He pitched eight innings, recording 10 strikeouts.

Lackey was pulled with one on in the seventh. Craig Breslow came on and walked Alex Avila, but Infante's groundout ended the inning.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2013 C11

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