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Evenly matched ALCS is living up to billing

Red Sox-Tigers head to Game 4 with three nail-biters in the books @RichardJustice

DETROIT -- This is as good as it gets. Three games decided by one run. Three games filled with tension and emotion. Three games that have delivered everything we could have hoped for as the Red Sox and Tigers remind us yet again why we love October baseball.

"If you can't appreciate this one, you can't appreciate baseball," Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander said after striking out 10 in eight innings of Game 3 on Tuesday.

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Even a guy who is fiercely competitive, even a guy who has just come out on the wrong end of another 1-0 game understands he's involved in something pretty darn cool.

"It's been an amazing first three games," he added.

The Red Sox beat the Tigers to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

Maybe you remember the Tigers won Game 1 by the score of 1-0. And then there was Game 2, when the Tigers had a 5-1 lead and saw it vaporize on a David Ortiz grand slam. The Red Sox won that one, 6-5, so in three contests, the Red Sox have outscored the Tigers 7-6.

Those two 1-0 scores aren't a surprise, given the depth and quality of these two starting rotations. Still, sometimes we're disappointed by a series that is supposed to be this or that. This one has been thrilling baseball and great theater.

In Game 3, it was Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli delivering. He'd struck out six times in six at-bats in the series before hammering a Verlander pitch over the left-field wall in the top of the seventh.

The Tigers had plenty of chances, stranding runners on third base three times, including the eighth inning when they had a man on with one out.

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson walked with one out in the inning and sprinted to third on Torii Hunter's single to right.

Hunter pumped his fist and screamed when he got to first base. After a long afternoon of being dominated by Red Sox starter John Lackey for 6 2/3 innings, he finally could see daylight.

Jackson stayed at third as one Red Sox reliever, Junichi Tazawa, struck out one of baseball's best hitters, Miguel Cabrera, and another, Koji Uehara, struck out Prince Fielder.

"It's playoff pitching," Fielder said. "It's frustrating, but that's part of it."

Hunter summed it up simply.

"I can't say it enough: Great pitching is going to beat good hitting," he said. "And the pitching on both sides has been great.

Great pitching isn't always enough. The Tigers have lost two of three despite their three starters -- Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Verlander -- allowing two earned runs in 21 innings.

"Over there, they're saying Scherzer nailed it and Verlander nailed it," Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "But it's not about starting pitching. It's not about bullpens. It's not about offenses. It's about touching the plate more than them, and we were able to do that."

Sometimes, players get caught up in a series like this one, and only later do they understand how special it has been.

Give these players credit. They know how special this is. They know how evenly matched they are.

"This is a heavyweight bout," Gomes said.

Here's another quote that sums things up.

"It's going to be a battle for every single out, every single run," Verlander said. "It's been an amazing first three games."

There's not an eyelash of difference between the Red Sox and Tigers, and for two franchises that have worked so hard to put themselves in position to win a championship, this ALCS going to be a bitter pill for one of them.

The Tigers took some consolation by having rallied from a 2-1 deficit against the A's in an AL Division Series.

"Nothing is easy," Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez said. "You've got to turn the page. We've been able to do that. We'll come back tomorrow, play hard and let's see what happens."

This is just the fourth time there have been two 1-0 games in a single series.

Game 4 is Wednesday night, airing at 8 ET on FOX.

Stay tuned.

"You stay here long enough, you're always going to see something new," Hunter said. "I've been playing 20-plus years of professional ball, and I promise you I see something new every year. That's crazy."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers