DETROIT– It only took one bad pitch from Justin Verlander to decide Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday at Comerica Park.
But one was enough for Boston first baseman Mike Napoli.
With Verlander continuing the Tigers’ dominant string of starting performances, Napoli cranked a home run in the seventh inning to give the Red Sox a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“The boy took care of me once again,” Red Sox starter John Lackey said of Napoli. “He has hit some big dingers this year, and he hit one today.”
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Lackey outdueled Verlander in the second 1-0 game in the series, throwing 62
3 shutout innings and watching his bullpen come through in the clutch.
Verlander pitched eight strong innings, with the Napoli homer on a 3-2 pitch his only costly mistake. He struck out 10 and allowed four hits, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth and throwing 120 pitches.
“It’s two heavyweights going at it,” Verlander said. “If you can’t appreciate this, you can’t appreciate baseball. It has been an amazing three games.”
The Tigers blew a prime scoring opportunity in the eighth when Torii Hunter’s single put runners on the corners with one out. But Junichi Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera, the likely league most valuable player, on a 1-2 fastball Cabrera lunged at and missed badly.
Tazawa said he was surprised catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia called all fastballs, but the strategy paid off.
“ ‘Salty’ put me in a really good spot, and I was able to get him out,” Tazawa said. “I was thinking worst-case scenario, and walking him was not the worst thing to do.”
Closer Koji Uehara came in after the Cabrera strikeout and fanned Prince Fielder on three pitches to strand the runners.
The Tigers had one last gasp when Victor Martinez led off the ninth with a single. But Jhonny Peralta grounded into a double play and Uehara struck out Alex Avila to end the game.
The Red Sox are hitting .133 in the series and have scored runs in three of the 27 innings so far. The three Detroit starters, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, have combined for an 0.86 ERA and allowed six hits over 21 innings — with 35 strikeouts.
There is no confusing the Red Sox with the 1906 White Sox team known as the “Hitless Wonders,” as they led the majors this year in runs scored, and ranked second with a .277 average.
“ ‘Lack’ finally figured out that we’re only going to give him one run,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “He learned from the whole year.
“Our pitching was unbelievable, and Nap’s swing … it was a great win for us.”