DETROIT — The Boston-Detroit American League Championship Series may be shy on offense, but good pitching has turned every inning into a tense moment.
Mike Napoli’s seventh-inning solo home run broke up a classic pitching duel between Boston’s John Lackey and Detroit’s Justin Verlander, lifting the Red Sox a 1-0 victory over the Tigers on Tuesday and giving Boston a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
The teams have traded 1-0 wins, and the Red Sox took a 6-5 middle-game victory that featured a four-run frame by each team. The two teams play Game 4 at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“I credit this one and most of this series so far to really, really good pitching,” Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland said. “One swing of the bat. They hit it over the fence and we didn’t.”
“This series has been marked by very good pitching on both sides,” Red Sox skipper John Farrell said. “As we’ve seen in the first three games, their starters have been outstanding.”
Napoli beat Verlander by swatting a 3-2 fastball over the wall in left-center with one out in the seventh. It ended Verlander’s streak of 21 consecutive scoreless postseason innings and 34 straight innings without allowing a run dating back to Sept. 18.
“If you can’t appreciate this,” Verlander said, “you can’t appreciate baseball. It’s been a tough three games but we’ll bounce back. We have all year.”
Napoli said Verlander was tough to face.
“He was on his game tonight and keeping us all off balance,” Napoli said. “I got him into a 3-2 count and put a good swing on a pitch and was able to get it.”
Pressed further about his approach, the heavily-bearded Napoli revealed a superstitious moment with another of his hirsute team mates.
“I rubbed my bat on Jonny’s (Gomes) beard before I went out to that at-bat,” said Napoli. “I just tried to put a good at-bat together and I came through.”
Detroit twice failed to get a runner in from third with less than two out. Omar Infante whiffed on a steady stream of Lackey (2-0) curves in the fifth with Jhonny Peralta on third, and Junichi Tazawa fanned Miguel Cabrera on four straight fastballs with Austin Jackson on third and Torii Hunter on first and one out in the eighth.
“We decided power was the best way to go (against Cabrera),” Farrell said “It was a pivotal moment. That was a swing moment for sure.”
The game’s true swing moment belonged to Napoli, who got his first Major League home run off Verlander when both were rookies in 2006. It was his first big league at-bat.
On Tuesday, Napoli ran the count full on Verlander (1-1) in the seventh and ripped a fastball that was a touch above the belt but right over the heart of the plate.
“I felt like he hadn’t seen the fastball very much,” Verlander said. “I gave him two sliders in a row, the second was a good one he didn’t chase. Having faced him already, I knew he wasn’t seeing the fastball. It was a little bit of a mistake, a little bit up and little bit over the middle.”
“I’ve been feeling comfortable,” Napoli said. “Not searching for anything. He got me twice early in the game on four sliders, which he’s never done before. I put a good at-bat together, was able to get it to 3-2, got a pitch I could handle.”
After Tazawa handled Cabrera, Red Sox closer Koji Uehara struck out Prince Fielder on three pitches. He then worked the ninth for his third postseason save.
Doug Fister, a relative soft-tosser when lined up with Detroit’s first three starters in the series, will pitch for the Tigers on Wednesday night against Boston’s Jake Peavy.
Lackey more than matched Verlander during his 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out eight. His curveball was exceptionally sharp.
He was visibly irked when Farrell came out to remove him from the game with a runner on and two outs in the seventh.
“Come on, man,” the television cameras caught him saying. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
But Farrell wasn’t, calling on lefty Craig Breslow, who walked left-handed-hitting Alex Avila to put the tying run in scoring position before getting Infante on an inning-ending grounder.
Verlander didn’t allow his first hit until Jonny Gomes grounded a single up the middle with two out in the fifth, the first time in the series Boston got its first hit prior to the sixth inning. Verlander tied the major-league postseason record with six consecutive strikeouts in the second and third innings.
Detroit’s starters have worked 21 innings in the first three games, allowing two runs.
Farrell also saluted his bullpen.
“Bres comes in, picks him (Lackey) up … then the two key strikeouts in the eighth inning with Junichi against Cabrera, and then Koji against Fielder,” Farrell said.
“We liked the match-up against Cabrera with power,” he said about going with hard-throwng Tazawa to face the Tigers slugger.
“It was pivotal moment. You’re getting the best guy in baseball at the plate, trying to preserve a one-run lead. That was a swing moment for sure.”
Play was halted for 17 minutes prior to the bottom of the second inning when a brief power interruption killed the lights. The Tigers reported a nearby substation went offline briefly to cause the outage.
NOTES: The three-team deal July 30 that sent Peavy to Boston and SS Jose Iglesias to Detroit was “a great baseball trade because it clearly had specific needs and fits for the three teams involved,” Farrell said. “You have to give up a quality player to get a quality player in return.” … Cabrera had reached base in all 31 of his playoff games with Detroit, the longest streak in baseball history in the postseason, before going 0-for-4 Tuesday. … Red Sox relievers ran their streak of scoreless innings to 11 2/3 by blanking the Tigers for 2 1/3 innings Tuesday. … Detroit’s Andy Dirks went 0-for-2 in his first start of the series. “He’s struggled a little bit, been off, had time to clear the cobwebs,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “(We’re) not getting a lot of production out of left field unless we played Peralta there.” Iglesias will start at short Wednesday with Peralta playing left. Leyland said he was thinking of having Don Kelly take over for the slumping Jackson, who has 18 post-season strikeouts.