If Game Three is huge in a seven-game series, consider the Boston Red Sox pretty happy right now.
That’s because Boston just beat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, 1-0, in Game Three of the American League Championship Series to grab control of the series in more ways than one.
Slaying the big, dominant Tigers righty is a must for any team that wants to beat the Tigers in the postseason, and this has been true since 2006. Let’s take a quick glance at Verlander’s postseason record:
- 2006 ALDS: 0-0 against the New York Yankees, and Tigers advance;
- 2006 ALCS: 1-0 against the Oakland Athletics, and Tigers sweep;
- 2006 World Series: 0-2 against the St. Louis Cardinals, and Tigers lose;
- 2011 ALDS: 1-0 against the Yankees, and Tigers advance;
- 2011 ALCS: 1-1 against the Texas Rangers, and Tigers lose;
- 2012 ALDS: 2-0 against the A’s, and Tigers win;
- 2012 ALCS: 1-0 against the Yankees, and Tigers advance;
- 2012 World Series: 0-1 against the San Francisco Giants, and Tigers lose;
- 2013 ALDS: 1-0 against the A’s, and Tigers win.
Basically, if you can pin an October loss on Verlander, you will beat the Tigers in a playoff series. Thus, if history is any precedent, the Boston Red Sox are going to win this year’s ALCS and advance to the World Series for the first time since 2007.
Verlander didn’t pitch poorly Tuesday night, at all; he made one mistake, giving up a solo home run in the seventh inning. Overall, he struck out 10 batters in eight innings while giving up just four hits, in a typically dominant effort.
But that one home run cost Verlander the game, and it may cost the Tigers the series, too. After all, when you can slay the big bad dragon, nothing else looks very scary.
Enter John Lackey, Dragon-slayer.
Most people probably remember Lackey as the then-Anaheim Angels rookie who started and won Game Seven of the 2002 World Series against the Giants and Barry Bonds (a beast of a different sort, if not a dragon, too). In truth, before this postseason with the Red Sox, Lackey has won just one single postseason start since that 2002 effort. And that was in 2009 for the Angels against Boston, ironically, in Game One of the ALDS.
But Lackey had a re-birth of sorts this year in Fenway, after mostly stinking in his first two years (posting a 5.26 ERA) with the Red Sox on a big contract he signed before the 2010 season. He notched a 3.52 ERA in 2013, and that effort has carried over into the postseason. He beat Tampa Bay in the ALDS even though he didn’t pitch very well, and now he’s won two straight postseason starts for the first time in his long career.
Tuesday, Lackey struck out eight Tigers hitters himself, in less than seven innings, and he also only surrendered four hits — but no home runs, which was obviously huge against a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, etc.
And it’s just what the Red Sox needed in the hostile territory of downtown Detroit: a dragon-slayer to take down Verlander and basically put Boston in the driver’s seat to win this ALCS.
Yes, the Tigers have formidable starting pitching, with three great starters and one that’s pretty darn good. But if you take down the “big one,” as noted, nothing else is going to scare you very much.
And Boston is not the kind of team anymore to make history in a negative kind of way (they shed that label in 2004, for good, basically), so unless they want to be the first team ever to beat Verlander in a postseason game and then lose the series, the Red Sox are probably feeling pretty confident right now in their chances to get to the World Series — especially with Games Six and Seven back home at Fenway, if necessary. Although if it comes to that, they’ll probably have to beat Verlander again.
Wouldn’t that be something special?