Toe to Toe With Justin Verlander

The 2013 Major League Baseball postseason has been filled with great pitching performances. In the first 26 games of the postseason, there have been seven shutouts, including four 1-0 games. Two of those 1-0 games have happened in the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. The latest 1-0 game came in Game Three.

The Red Sox sent John Lackey to take the mound in Game Three to face one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball, Justin Verlander. On paper, this pitching matchup favored Verlander and the Tigers. On the field however, it was a completely different story as Lackey went toe-to-toe with Verlander.

Detroit looked to be in complete control of this series in Game Two when they had a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning, already ahead in the series 1-0. If Boston would have lost that game, they would have been down 0-2 heading back to Detroit to face Verlander. That wasn’t the case and it set the stage for an unforgettable pitching duel.

The game was delayed 17 minutes in the second inning when there was a power outage, causing the lights to shut off. It isn’t unusual to see pitchers lose focus and pitch out of rhythm due to delays. That was certainly not the case for Verlander or Lackey, as neither were phased by said delay.

Lackey, who has not pitched up to expectations in Boston since signing in 2010, proved his worth to the team in Game Three. He pitched six and two-thirds innings without giving up a walk or a run. Lackey had a career-playoff high eight strikeouts. At one point in the game, he retired 10 consecutive Detroit batters.

Verlander was dominant for a third straight start this postseason. He pitched eight innings, giving up four hits, a walk, 10 strikeouts and the lone run of the game. He was in full “ace” mode in the early stages of the game, not allowing a hit until there were two outs in the fifth inning. Verlander had a span of six consecutive strikeouts, tying a postseason record. He was wheeling and dealing, then came the top of the seventh where Boston’s Mike Napoli took a 3-2 fastball over the left field fence for the game’s lone run.

In a game that is ruled by the pitchers, one pitch can alter the entire game and that mistake came off the bat of Napoli. The Boston bullpen came in and preserved the lead they inherited, backing Lackey. Craig Breslow came in for Lackey with two outs in the seventh, issued a walk, but got Omar Infante to ground out to end the inning. After getting the first out of the eighth inning after the Tigers were threatening with runners on the corners, Breslow gave the ball to Junichi Tazawa who came in and struck out Miguel Cabrera. The ball then went to closer Koji Uehara for a four-out save. He struck out Prince Fielder to end the eighth inning. Those two strikeouts stranded the runners on the corners. Uehara would finish things off in the ninth, giving Boston the win.

Much of the hype heading into this game was how good Verlander was, hardly any attention was given to Lackey. The Red Sox had faith in Lackey, especially Game Four starter Jake Peavy, who stuck up for his teammate before Game Three. He was talking about all the hype surrounding Verlander, and said “Our starter is really good, too.”

Peavy was sure right about Lackey, who matched Verlander 0 for 0 on the scoreboard, giving Boston a chance to eventually win the game. This is arguably the best start of Lackey’s Boston tenure. He put his team in position to go ahead in the series, when all hope looked to be lost just two days ago. A gutsy performance from Lackey was enough to outduel Verlander and give Boston even more momentum heading into Game Four.

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I am a 2013 graduate of Clarion University with a bachelor's degree in communications and a concentration in journalism. I aspire to be great. I love sports and professional wrestling. Follow me on Twitter @KIngEdward15 and engage in sports talk with me.

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