Lackey saves his best for ALCS in win over Tigers

Lackey saves his best for ALCS in win over Tigers
October 15, 2013, 11:00 pm
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GAME 3: RED SOX 1, TIGERS 0

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DETROIT – It hasn’t always been easy for John Lackey in his tenure with the Red Sox, either on the field or off. His trials and travails with fans and the media since he joined the team in 2010 – the start of the team’s three-season absence from the postseason – have been trying.
 
But after missing all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery and coming into spring training with a new physique, Lackey was this season, if not a different person, a different pitcher, at least.
 
And Tuesday’s win in Game 3 of the ALCS was the most important start and finest performance of his 92 regular season and postseason outings with the Red Sox.
 
Matched up against Justin Verlander, Lackey was every bit as good as the former Cy Young Award winner and Tigers ace. And in this game he was better.
 
Lackey went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just four hits with no walks, setting a career postseason high with eight strikeouts. He threw 97 pitches, 66 for strikes.  
 
“Given the challenges he's come through in the time he's been in Boston, we're glad he's not only come back from Tommy John, but regained the form he had pre‑injury,” manager John Farrell said.
 
For catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it was the best outing Lackey has had with the Sox.
 
“For me as far as the situation goes, and everything, yes, that’s a huge situation, big game for us,” Saltalamacchia. “Knowing the team we’re going against, knowing the pitcher we’re going against, all year long we’ve seemed to not be able to put runs up for him. So to be able to put that one run that we needed and have him just do the rest and shut it down, yeah, by far one of the best.”
 
The only run of the game was on Mike Napoli’s home run in the seventh inning, giving Lackey little margin for error.
 
“I think if you poll any pitcher, a starting pitcher, they want that moment,” said Farrell, a former pitcher. “They want the importance of every pitch to be on it, particularly this late in the season. They want that responsibility. John is no different. And there was no margin for error. And you know what, he did a heck of a job.”
 
Although, Lackey appeared to be a little shaky in the first inning – facing five batters, giving up two hits – he ended the inning, stranding runners at first and third. After Prince Fielder’s two-out single in the first to put runners on the corners, Lackey retired the next 10 batters, and 18 of the next 20 before exiting.
 
“I felt pretty good warming up,” Lackey said. “They came out swinging on me quite a bit. The first pitch, whole first inning. I had to make some adjustments early on. Salty 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. Bres [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.”
 
Lackey, though, not unexpectedly, was none too happy about coming out of the game when manager John Farrell came to get him with Victor Martinez on first and two out in the seventh in favor of left-hander Craig Breslow.
 
“Well, you can anticipate him not wanting to come out of the game,” Farrell said. “And you know what, that's what makes John such the competitor that he is. I'd rather him come off arguing than come off with his head hanging. That means we're probably on the reverse side of the scoreboard.

“You never want a pitcher to come out of the game. If something is made of that, we don't want John to change who he is as a person, and certainly who he is as a competitor.”

As the Sox were about to take the field at the start of the second, the field lights at Comerica Park all went out, caused by an outage at a nearby substation, resulting in a 17-minute delay. While that kind of a break could cause problems for some pitchers, Saltalamacchia thought the delay may have been good for Lackey.
 
“I think he definitely wasn’t happy with it,” Saltalamacchia said. “It always seems like his starts, there’s always something, whether it’s a rain delay or something happens where there’s a delay. He always seems to get those but I think it was probably a good opportunity for him to kind of slow things down. I think he was a little excited that first inning. It seemed like he was maybe overthrowing a little bit, because he was leaving pitches over the plate that he normally doesn’t. So it might have been a good chance for him to slow down and regroup.”
 
After that first inning, Lackey made the necessary adjustments to pitch a gem.
 
“He never gave in,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s always competing. Lack’s such a smart pitcher that he knows the situation regardless of how hairy it gets. He really knows how to slow the situation down, know who’s on deck, knows the situation. Man on third with less than two outs, he’s not worried about, ‘Hey, I need to get this guy out or limit the damage.”  he knows that we can pitch around this guy and maybe try and get the double play or not just give this guy a cookie where he’s going to get him over, get him in. Smart, real smart.”
 
“They were swinging, you know, on first-pitch fastballs quite a bit,” Lackey said. “It's not uncommon, that I haven't seen this year. I tend to throw a lot of first-pitch strikes. And it's kind of been an approach that several teams made against me. I had to make some adjustments about that. Salty was great behind the plate. He had a great feel for it and we worked well together.”
 
Out of the game, all Lackey could do was watch.
 
“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.”
 
After walking Alex Avila, Breslow got Omar Infante to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
 
In the eighth, Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara kept the Tigers scoreless, despite having runners at the corners with one out. After striking out pinch-hitter Jose Iglesias, Breslow walked Austin Jackson (just Jackson’s second walk of the postseason with 18 strikeouts), ending Breslow’s outing with Tazawa entering. But Tazawa gave up a single to his first batter, Torii Hunter, to put runners on the corners for the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera.
 
But, Tazawa struck out Cabrera, swinging at three fastballs. Uehara entered for the equally always dangerous Fielder (despite having no RBI in 28 postseason at-bats before this one). Uehara struck out Cabrera on three pitches, ending the inning and the Tigers threat.
 
After a lead-off single by Martinez in the ninth, Uehara got Jhonny Peralta to ground into a double play before striking out Avila to end the game.
 
When it was over, Lackey had the win, and the Red Sox had the 2-1 lead in the series.  And in a game started by Verlander only made it that much better.
 
“It was awesome, for sure,” Lackey said. “I mean, I knew I was going to have to pitch pretty good today. He's having a great career, great season, great postseason. The guys came through, [Mike Napoli} took care of me once again. He's hit some dingers for me, and it was a big one today.”