Lackey is latest to deliver against Tigers' vaunted starting pitchers
DETROIT -- The Red Sox, along with the rest of the active members of Planet Earth who happen to be paying attention to baseball this time of year, have heard three names bandied about quite a bit over the last five days: Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
It's tough to ignore how good the Detroit Tigers' starting pitchers have been, after all, and we still haven't seen the more finesse-oriented styling of Doug Fister, who will take the mound in Game 4 of this American League Championship Series on Wednesday night, airing at 8 ET on FOX.
But after Tuesday's Game 3 result at Comerica Park, a 1-0 Red Sox victory that put Boston in the enviable position of being up, 2-1, with two more games to potentially be played in Boston, it might be time to absorb what's been going on with the starting pitching from the team with the B on the cap.
Tuesday night was just the latest example. Red Sox starter John Lackey threw 6 2/3 sparkling innings, striking out eight while not walking a batter and giving up only four hits. A trio of Boston relievers preserved it, and now Boston is in the driver's seat.
Add that to Jon Lester's brilliant work in a 1-0 loss in Game 1 and a few good early innings from Clay Buchholz in Game 2 and you're looking at a team that has hung with the vaunted Detroit top three pitch for pitch. Or maybe it's the other way around?
"They've been matching us pitch for pitch, too," Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "You know what I mean? It's just a series where we're getting to watch awesome pitchers duel, and it's fun."
The numbers still favor Detroit's starters. There's no denying how powerful Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander have been in the first three games of the series.
Sanchez pitched six innings, didn't give up a hit or a run and struck out 12 while walking six. Scherzer didn't give up a hit for 5 2/3 innings, ended up with seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball and struck out 13 while walking two. Verlander went eight innings on Tuesday, gave up one run on a Mike Napoli home run, but otherwise only gave up three singles and struck out 10 while walking one. All told, that's a 0.88 ERA with 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 21 innings.
And a 2-1 deficit in the 2013 ALCS.
"Scherzer nailed it; 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."
But the Red Sox would not be in the position they're in without solid work from their own starters, and by and large they've gotten that.
Lester, going up against Sanchez's no-hit bid, went 6 1/3 innings and gave up one run on six hits with four strikeouts. Buchholz started Game 2 and looked good early before eventually surrendering five runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, but he struck out six batters and continues to regain feel after being out from early June to early September with a shoulder issue. And on Tuesday night, Lackey was superb in an outing that looked like it could have gone a lot longer, given that he was pulled after throwing 97 pitches.
"They came out swinging on me quite a bit," Lackey said. "The first pitch, whole first inning. I had to make some adjustments early on. [Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] called a great game. And I was able to keep them off balance after that.
"I wasn't quite ready to come out at that moment. [Reliever Craig Breslow] has had a great year for us, and had a great last series. We won the game, that's all that really matters."
Even with the blip from Buchholz, that's a 2.89 series ERA for Boston starters, with 18 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings and only one walk.
"They've got great stuff," Breslow said of the Tigers' starters. "They've got dominant, overpowering stuff and big strikeout numbers. The guys over here have gotten outs. And neither is more important than the other. Outs are outs, irrespective of how you go about getting them, and we've got all the confidence in the world in the guys that we're going to roll out there.
"It might not be six or seven hitless innings with double-digit strikeout numbers, but our guys are battle-tested, they make pitches when the game's on the line, and we like where we're at because of them."