Breslow, Tazawa, Uehara lock down final seven outs with strong outings
DETROIT -- John Lackey tracked his 97th pitch of the evening off the bat, watching it settle harmlessly into Shane Victorino's glove out in right field and knew he had a few more bullets in his right arm -- certainly enough to get through the seventh inning.
Now here was manager John Farrell walking slowly out of the dugout, and Lackey scowled. A brief conversation with the Red Sox manager followed, and when Farrell's decision to go to the bullpen was made official, Lackey didn't hide his displeasure.
But Farrell finished the night satisfied that he had pushed the right buttons in navigating the treacherous Tigers lineup, calling on three relievers to lock down the final seven outs of Boston's 1-0 victory over Detroit in the American League Championship Series.
"Obviously [Lackey] doesn't want to come out of the game; I don't know a pitcher that does," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "All of our pitchers want to stay in as long as possible, especially in a situation like that. But he trusts our bullpen, we all do. They've been there for us all year long."
Lackey was turning in arguably his best performance wearing a Red Sox uniform as he entered the seventh, striking out Prince Fielder to open the frame. But Victor Martinez laced a hard single to left-center before leaving for a pinch-runner, and Lackey fell behind Jhonny Peralta 3-0 before recovering to induce the fly ball for the second out.
Detroit's next hitter, Alex Avila, was 0-for-9 against Lackey and had managed just a broken-bat groundout and a strikeout in two at-bats on Tuesday. Farrell preferred the left-on-left matchup with Craig Breslow, who didn't help the tension levels for the fan base back home by issuing a five-pitch walk.
Saltalamacchia believed that Lackey could have gotten Avila out again, but said that he had agreed with Farrell's move in the moment.
"It was their third time around against Lack seeing him, so you don't want to take that chance," Saltalamacchia said. "More times than not, you get burned. I had no doubt in my mind Lack could have got out of it, but I think it was the right call."
Breslow recovered by getting Omar Infante to ground out to second base, stranding two men aboard. Boston's biggest challenge of the night was still ahead, though, as Breslow issued a one-out walk to Austin Jackson before exiting in the eighth.
Torii Hunter greeted right-hander Junichi Tazawa with a single, advancing Jackson to third base. Though even a Miguel Cabrera fly ball would have erased Boston's lead, Farrell chose Tazawa over closer Koji Uehara, who has surrendered two homers in four at-bats against Cabrera lifetime.
"We liked the matchup with power against Cabrera," Farrell said. "Cabrera has had good success against Koji in the past; hit a couple of balls out of the ballpark against him. And particularly after the base hit the other way by Torii to put them in the first and third situation, we felt power was the best way to go here.
"Whether he climbed the ladder away from him late or just stayed hard with him, it was a pivotal moment. You're getting the best guy in baseball at the plate, trying to preserve a one-run lead."
So while Uehara finished warming up out in the left-field bullpen, Tazawa pumped four fastballs past Cabrera for a huge swinging strikeout.
"It's definitely the biggest out of the game," Saltalamacchia said. "Knowing Cabrera, knowing that he's such an RBI machine that any chance he gets in that situation, it seems like he never fails. He's always going to succeed.
"Taz coming in, he was smart. He mixed up his slide-step, really kind of kept them off-balance to where he couldn't get his timing down, and obviously made great pitches -- 95, 96 [mph], right there on the corner. Huge, huge out."
The Sox still needed to get past Fielder, a task that Farrell presented to Uehara, seeking a four-out save. Uehara got the first part of the job done on just three pitches, with the third strike coming on a splitter that dove past Fielder's bat to kill the threat.
Uehara would continue on to lock down the save by inducing a double-play grounder and a strikeout in the ninth, and Lackey was the first to join the cheering section. He might not have applauded Farrell's moves at first, but he sure appreciated the outcome at the end of the night.
"Obviously, some great hitters up there in a tight situation," Lackey said. "And Taz came through with a big strikeout and Koji has been doing it all year. We like having him on the mound, that's for sure."