This is one of the main reasons the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a 5-year, $82.5-million contact before the 2010 season. Because he is a big-game pitcher. Whether you love him or hate him, he doesn’t fear the big stage. He relishes it.
His task yesterday was overwhelming, but not to him.
Everyone in New England, Michigan and the entire baseball world knew what the righty had to do.
Lackey had to pitch his absolute mind out to outduel Detroit ace Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP who had thrown 27.0 straight scoreless innings over his past four starts entering Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Lackey did just that, delivering a historic performance as he became only the third Red Sox starting pitcher in franchise history to win a 1-0 postseason playoff game.
With their 1-0 victory over the Tigers in Game 3 at Comerica Park, the Red Sox took a 2-1 best-of-seven series lead.
Lackey joined Babe Ruth who won 1-0 over the Cubs in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series and Bruce Hurst who did it against the Mets in Game 1 of the 1986 World Series.
The right-hander — who often has been criticized during his four-year tenure with Boston — hurled 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while walking nobody and striking out eight. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli’s solo homer off Verlander with one out in the seventh inning accounted for the game’s lone run.
Calling Lackey a big-game pitcher is not hyperbole. He now has a 3.11 ERA in 16 postseason outings, including 14 starts. And he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series with the Angels as a rookie.
Lackey pitched horrendously during his first two years with Boston and his involvement in the clubhouse beer-and-fried chicken fiasco during the 2011 September collapse worsened his reputation. But whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect what Lackey did yesterday. He delivered in a game that many gave him no chance to win.
John Farrell told reporters in Detroit before the game, “We know we’re getting premium stuff thrown at us (from Verlander), and the consistency to the execution will be the key again today.”
The Red Sox staff ace had few concerns about the Game 3 starter heading into last night.
“Whether it’s April 5 or Oct. 5, you’re going to get the same John Lackey and get the same intensity and same mindset,” Jon Lester recently told The Eagle-Tribune, adding he was excited to see what Lackey could do this postseason because of his previous playoff resume. “I’m just glad that he signed over here to have another opportunity to win another World Series.”
Detroit’s starting pitching is tremendous. The Sox only had one hit in Game 1 when Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez threw 6.0 hitless frames. Max Scherzer then dazzled Boston hitters in Game 2, keeping them hitless until the bottom of the sixth.
Verlander was just as good, holding Boston hitless until the top of the fifth yesterday when Jonny Gomes reached on an infield single.
All that said, the Red Sox pitching — bullpen included — deserves a ton of praise. Red Sox pitchers have been nearly as good as Detroit.
Game 4 is tonight, against the Tigers at Detroit’s Comerica Park.