When the scheduled pitching matchups for the ALCS were announced, Game 3's slate of Justin Verlander versus John Lackey looked like one to circle. This could be a potential mismatch, right? Verlander is one of the best pitchers in baseball and has been dominant during the playoffs. Lackey was the Red Sox's third-best starting pitcher and gave up four runs to the Rays in his previous postseason outing.
So naturally, Lackey won the pitching duel with Verlander Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park. Just as anyone would've guessed. The right-hander didn't allow a run, gave up only four hits, had no walks and eight strikeouts over 6.2 innings. That led Boston to a 1-0 win over the Tigers and a 2-1 series lead in the ALCS.
Yet Lackey's performance shouldn't have been completely unexpected. He had a 3.52 ERA during the season, the lowest mark in his past five seasons. The Tigers are a free-swinging team that doesn't work counts, nor do they present any stolen-base threats — something that's caused problems for Lackey.
it's just that Lackey has been largely terrible during his four years in Boston, one of which was spent recovering from Tommy John surgery. During his first two seasons with the Red Sox, he compiled a 5.26 ERA. He bristled at the attention and scrutiny from the Boston media. And the fans were merciless in their disdain for him. It certainly didn't help that Lackey was named as one of the participants in the infamous fried-chicken-and-beer shenanigans of the 2011 season.
But Lackey's Tommy John surgery indicated that his right elbow probably wasn't healthy during those first two seasons in Boston. And the Red Sox clubhouse had undergone an overhaul, with Josh Beckett getting shipped out to Los Angeles (along with other malcontents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford) and John Farrell taking over as manager. Just like the rest of his team, Lackey deserved to be viewed through fresh eyes. He likely will be after the way he pitched on Tuesday.
On the other side, Verlander certainly didn't pitch badly. The Tigers' ace didn't allow a hit until two outs in the fifth inning, when Jonny Gomes finally broke through with a single. He struck out six consecutive Boston batters between the second and third innings. But he wasn't invulnerable. In the seventh inning, Verlander threw a 96 mph fastball right down the middle of the strike zone and Mike Napoli crushed it to left-center field for a home run and a 1-0 Red Sox lead.
Napoli went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the first two games of the ALCS. Prior to Game 3, he was batting .118 (2-for-17) with eight strikeouts in the postseason. He struck out in his previous two at-bats against Verlander. But all of that was forgotten — and forgiven — with one swing of the bat. Lackey wasn't the only one who took a swig of redemption on Tuesday.
Game 4 of the ALCS is Wednesday in Detroit with first pitch scheduled for 8:07 p.m. ET. Jake Peavy will start for the Red Sox and Doug Fister gets the call for the Tigers. Fister gave up three runs and seven hits over six innings versus Oakland in his last outing, while Peavy allowed one run and five hits in 5.2 frames against the Rays.