Mike Napoli Turns Clock Back to 2006 and Other Red Sox Notes From Game 3 of ALCS

Mike Napoli, Jarrod SaltalamacchiaThe Red Sox have struck out 43 times, have scored just one run before the seventh inning all series and haven’t been able to produce a hit prior to the fifth inning. Yet, the Red Sox are up 2-1 on the Tigers in the ALCS and sit just two wins away from the World Series.

It’s been a very strange series dominated by pitching, which is somewhat surprising given that the two teams ranked first and second in the majors in runs scored during the regular season. One run was enough for the Red Sox to take Game 3, as Mike Napoli‘s solo homer in the seventh inning held up as the difference in Boston’s 1-0 win.

John Lackey outdueled Justin Verlander in his most important start as a member of the Red Sox. Lackey, who gained a reputation as a big-game pitcher while playing for the Angels, hadn’t pitched in the playoffs with Boston before this year. He’s now 2-0 this postseason, and Tuesday’s effort against Detroit’s ace showed that Lackey is still capable of rising to the occasion.

The Red Sox not only hold a 2-1 lead in the ALCS, but they’ve also ensured that there will be at least one more game at Fenway Park this year. Even if the Sox drop the next two in Detroit, they’ll have an opportunity to use the Fenway atmosphere to their advantage in a Game 6 and potentially a Game 7.

There’s also the possibility that the Red Sox could take care of business in Games 4 and 5 in Detroit, which would make the next game at Fenway Park a World Series contest. Boston will have a chance to keep its momentum going Wednesday, when Jake Peavy and Doug Fister square off at Comerica Park.

Before we shift our focus to Game 4, let’s tie up those loose ends from Game 3.

  • Justin Verlander struck out six straight batters in the second and third innings of Game 3. That tied an MLB postseason record for consecutive strikeouts by a pitcher.

Verlander finished the game with 10 strikeouts, marking the sixth double-digit strikeout game of his postseason career. That, too, tied an MLB record.

“He was obviously locked in. He had that look, and so did their guy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “One swing of the bat and they hit one over the fence and we didn’t. But we had a couple of opportunities, and they shut us down in a couple of big moments. But that’s part of the game.”

  • Mike Napoli had been 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in the postseason before launching his solo homer in the seventh inning.

“I’ve been feeling comfortable. I’m not searching for anything,” Napoli said. “For me it’s just being on time. Going into that at‑bat, he got me twice early in the game. Threw me four sliders, which he’s never done to me before. But I just kept on going at it. I put a good at‑bat together. I was able to get it to 3‑2. And got a pitch I could handle.”

  • Napoli hit a home run off Verlander in his first major league at-bat back on May 4, 2006. Napoli was with the Angels at the time, and he hadn’t hit a home run off Verlander in 25 at-bats against the right-hander since.

“Obviously I’ll never forget that, being my first at‑bat,” Napoli said after Tuesday’s game. “I remember [it] being a day game and me being really tired that day, got the call from Salt Lake City.

“He’s definitely grown. I’ve definitely grown. You just have to make adjustments. He didn’t really throw too much of a slider back then. He threw really hard, threw a curveball, had a good changeup. We all watch video, we all get game plans and you kind of have a plan of what he’s going to do to you, what he’s done in the past, and that’s what I go off.”

  • John Lackey, who was fantastic for 6 2/3 innings in Game 3, was also with the Angels when Napoli hit his first major league home run off Verlander.

“I was here for the first homer, too,” Lackey said Tuesday while sitting next to Napoli. “It was pretty cool. I remember that, for sure. He got called up and hit one off Verlander on a curveball. And I said we need that dude, keep him around here.”

  • There was a 17-minute delay between the top and bottom of the second inning. Lackey, who gave up two hits in the first inning, retired nine straight after the delay.

“I wasn’t happy about it. Obviously, I was in a groove,” Verlander said of the delay. “But it had no effect. Just kind of treated it like a long inning.”

  • Erin Andrews reported on FOX’s broadcast that Leyland fired up a cigarette during the delay. Just in case you were wondering.
  • Lackey — and all of the Red Sox’ starting pitchers, for that matter — have praised Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s work behind the plate all season. Lackey felt that the two once again had a good rapport Tuesday.

“He’s my boy, first of all. A good buddy,” Lackey said of Salty. “When you care about each other, like we care about each other off the field, we’ve got such a good group of guys, I think it carries on the field. You can trust that guy back there. You know he’s in the battle with you, and thinking along with you. And that’s fun to have.”

  • The trio of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara once again slammed the door. They have given up just one run combined in 15 innings this postseason, and it came on Jose Lobaton‘s walk-off home run against Uehara in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Breslow: 5 1/3 innings, five strikeouts, three hits
Tazawa: 3 1/3 innings, three strikeouts, two hits
Uehara: 6 1/3 innings, nine strikeouts, four hits, one run

  • The two biggest at-bats of the game came in the eighth inning, when the Tigers had runners at the corners and one out. Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera while throwing four straight fastballs, and Uehara disposed of Prince Fielder on three pitches.

“We got opportunities to try to score and we didn’t do our job,” Cabrera said.

  • Fielder has gone 15 postseason games without an RBI. He has just one extra-base hit in that span.

Fielder is hitting .276 (8-for-29) overall this postseason. He is a career .203 hitter (27-for-133) in 36 career playoff games.

  • Cabrera finished the game 0-for-4 and didn’t reach base. He had reached base safely in 31 straight postseason games, which was an MLB record.

The last time that Cabrera didn’t reach safely in a playoff game before Tuesday was during the 2003 World Series, when he was a member of the Marlins.

  • Cabrera looked bad at the plate, too. He couldn’t catch up to the fastballs thrown his way, and he expanded his strike zone, which is something that Miggy almost never does.
  • This run on pitchers’ duels is pretty amazing.

ESPN.com’s Dave Schoenfield points out that Verlander, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright have started games in their respective League Championship Series over the last few days and have combined to allow eight runs in those six starts. However, their teams didn’t win any of those games.

  • There have been four 1-0 playoff games in the last 11 days. There had only been three 1-0 playoff games in the previous 11 years combined.
  • Jonny Gomes, who started in left field, gave the Red Sox their first hit of the game with two outs in the fifth inning. It was an infield single back up the middle.
  • Daniel Nava will likely get the start in Wednesday’s Game 4.

“Daniel has had good success against Fister,” John Farrell said before Game 3. “There’s no guarantee that will be the case tomorrow. But also contemplating Daniel will have three days off leading into tomorrow and how does that affect his potential timing at the plate. There were a number of things we considered. But getting back to what’s most important, that’s today, and trying to get the best fit, the best matchup that we could come to.”

  • The Red Sox are hitting .133 in the first three games of the ALCS. That’s the lowest batting average ever for a team in the first three games of a League Championship Series.

But again, Boston is up 2-1. Amazing.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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