SPORTS COMMENTARY

Verlander good, Lackey even better

Tigers trail 2-1 in series despite stellar mound performances

10/16/2013
BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

DETROIT — Jake Peavy read the newspapers, listened to the talk shows, watched ESPN, and found it all rather amusing.

All anyone was talking about was Justin Verlander.

“It was almost like we didn’t have a starter going today,” Peavy said Tuesday. “Our starter is pretty good too. John Lackey is a stud.”

That was debatable when Peavy said it. It sounded like a stretch. It did not later after Lackey and his Boston Red Sox took command of the ALCS with a 1-0 victory over Detroit.

A power outage interrupted play in the middle of the second inning. And it never really came back on with the exception of one swing by Boston’s Mike Napoli in the top of the seventh inning.

You like irony? In his first major league at-bat in 2006, while playing for the Los Angeles Angels, Napoli hit a home run off Verlander. One of the Angels’ pitchers that day was John Lackey.

“I remember that, for sure,” Lackey said. “He got called up and hit one off Verlander on a curveball. And I said, ‘We need that dude; keep him around here.’”

This time, the dude’s homer gave Lackey and Boston’s lights-out relievers all they needed.

Once again, Detroit got a superlative performance from its starter. Like Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer in the two previous games of the series, Verlander was unhittable early.

Boston batters have struck out 43 times in three ALCS games and only an infield single with two outs in the fifth prevented the Red Sox from being held hitless over the first five innings in all of those games.

For the Tigers to be down 1-2 in the series with that kind of starting pitching and two effective performances from the bullpen is a bitter pill to swallow.

“This is what it’s about in [the] postseason is good pitching,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “Verlander was obviously locked in. He had that look, but so did their guy. One swing of the bat and they hit one over the fence and we didn’t.”

Napoli hit a fastball over the fence in left after laying off two straight tempting sliders.

“I took ’em really well,” Napoli said.

“Those were really good sliders, and he didn’t chase,” Verlander said. “You don’t want to walk a guy in a 0-0 game, so I decided to challenge him, and I didn’t think he was seeing the fastball that great. Give him credit. He had a great at-bat.”

Verlander struck out 10 in eight innings and sat down after throwing 120 pitches, a whopping 85 of them strikes. He tied a postseason record with six straight strikeouts over one stretch and set another with a sixth career playoff game with 10-plus Ks.

Napoli’s homer snapped a streak of 34 1/‚Äč3 scoreless innings for Verlander, including late regular-season games.

Yes, it’s a bitter pill indeed for the Tigers to waste all that.

Thanks to Napoli, who was 2-for-19 (.105) in the postseason and had opened Tuesday’s game with two strikeouts before going deep, the Sox didn’t waste Lackey’s strong performance, which was something of a rarity for the veteran righty this season away from Fenway Park.

It turned out Peavy — who faces Detroit’s Doug Fister in today’s Game 4 — was correct. Lackey was a stud on this occasion.

He was on the ropes early, but got Victor Martinez to fly out with runners on the corners in the first inning. The Tigers didn’t have many more chances.

Lackey didn’t last the bottom of the seventh and didn’t hide the fact he wasn’t happy about leaving.

He got Jhonny Peralta for the second out with a man on, but manager John Farrell wanted a lefty to face Alex Avila.

Lackey saw the skipper coming and yelled, “Noooo, come on, man,” and a few other things that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

“I’d rather him come off arguing than come off with his head hanging,” Farrell said.

The Tigers insist their heads are not hanging, but you have to wonder after wasting a spectacular pitching performance by their starter for the second straight game.

“It’s just kind of the way it’s going to go, that it’s going to be a battle for every single out, every single run,” Verlander said. “Obviously, to give my team a chance to win today I would have had to throw up all zeroes, and I wasn’t able to do that.”

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.