By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – When such a loaded lineup as that of the Detroit Tigers gets shut out, questions come with the territory.
Rather than worry about the lack of offense in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss, though, the Tigers simply credited Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey. Justin Verlander pitched fantastic, but Lackey just pitched better.
“To give my team a chance to win today, I would have had to throw up all zeros, and I wasn’t able to do that,” Verlander said. “You kind of expect that, kind of, in this series. It’s just kind of the way it’s going to go. It’s going to be a battle for every single out, every single run. And it’s two heavyweights going at it.
“If you can’t appreciate this, you can’t appreciate baseball,” he added.
Of course, it would be easier to appreciate for Detroit and Tigers fans if the home team had emerged victorious Tuesday. Instead, the Tigers fell down two games to one in the ALCS.
Verlander gave up a single run, but the Tigers could not touch Lackey for even a single tally.
Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson summed up Lackey’s night with one word: control.
“He was able to hit spots when he needed to, threw his off-speed stuff for strikes,” Austin said. “Threw some fastballs up that were kind of sneaky once you’d been seeing some off-speed pitches. He’s a veteran. He knows how to pitch. He’s good in these situations.”
Tigers catcher Alex Avila said the lack of production from Detroit resulted from Lackey’s ability, nothing more.
“At this time of year, pitching always dominates,” Avila said. “It doesn’t matter how good your offense is. You’re going to have games where you’re able to score here and there, capitalize on mistakes that will happen, but for the most part pitching will always dominate in the playoffs on both sides.”
Avila said Lackey looked different Tuesday than he did the rest of the season, more varied in his pitch selection.
“I would say he probably threw a lot more curveballs and a lot more sliders than he had probably in all of his starts this season,” Avila said. “He was really mixing it up really well, which kept us off-balance pretty well. He wasn’t missing. He was right on today.”
In addition to tossing a increased variety of pitches, Lackey executed them extraordinarily well.
“You try to make the adjustment, absolutely,” Avila said, “but sometimes even when you know it’s coming it’s hard to hit, so even when you’re trying to make an adjustment against a guy that’s going that well, you’re trying to capitalize on mistakes. When the pitcher makes a mistake, that’s the one you’ve got to hit. He didn’t make too many of them, if any, today.”
Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter said Lackey looked like an earlier version of himself, from his days with the Anaheim Angels, where his ERA from 2005 to 2009 was a solid 3.49.
“He went out there and he pitched his butt off, kept that outside corner, kept painting, kept changing speeds on us with that little cutter,” Hunter said, “and he pitched a great game.”
The Tigers won a 1-0 battle in Game 1 in Boston, and Tuesday in Game 3 the Red Sox returned the favor. Offense obviously has to show up some time, but the low scoring games do seem to give credence to Avila’s statement that in the playoffs, games ultimately come down to whose great pitcher makes the worst mistake.