DETROIT // John Lackey figured there would be no margin for error.
So when Justin Verlander began overpowering the Boston lineup, Lackey did his best to match him, out for out.
“I knew I was going to have to pitch pretty good today,” Lackey said. “He’s having a great career, great season, great post-season. The guys came through.”
Lackey edged Verlander in the latest duel of these pitching-rich play-offs, and Boston’s bullpen shut down Detroit’s big boppers with the game on the line to lift the Red Sox over the Tigers 1-0 Tuesday for a 2-1 advantage in the American League championship series.
Mike Napoli homered off Verlander in the seventh inning, and Detroit’s best chances to rally fell short in the eighth when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder struck out with runners at the corners.
“The runs are pretty stingy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This is what it’s about in the post-season, is good pitching.”
Despite three straight gems by their starters, the Tigers suddenly trail in a best-of-seven series they initially appeared to control. Game 4 is Wednesday night at Comerica Park, with Jake Peavy scheduled to start for the Red Sox against Doug Fister.
Peavy set the tone Tuesday during a pre-game news conference, when he sounded miffed that so much of the attention was focused on Verlander before Game 3.
“It’s been funny for me to watch all the coverage of the game coming in,” Peavy said. “Almost like we didn’t have a starter going today. Our starter is pretty good, too.”
So the Tigers aren’t the only team in this ALCS with good starting pitching. That was evident after Lackey allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight without a walk in a game that was delayed 17 minutes in the second inning because lights on the stadium towers went out.
It was the second 1-0 game in this matchup between the highest-scoring teams in the majors. Dominant pitching has been a running theme throughout these play-offs, which have included four 1-0 scores and seven shutouts.
The Red Sox are now two wins from an American League pennant after overcoming each of Detroit’s biggest stars. Max Scherzer started Game 2 for the Tigers and was terrific, but Boston rallied from a five-run deficit against the Detroit bullpen to even the series.
Then on Tuesday, Boston came away with a win in Detroit against Verlander, and when Cabrera and Fielder came up in the eighth, the Red Sox held on.
Cabrera, who failed to reach base for the first time in 32 post-season games for the Tigers, never looked comfortable against Junichi Tazawa, swinging and missing at the first two offerings and eventually chasing an outside pitch for strike three.
“To me, I (got) myself out. I was swinging at a lot of balls out of the strike zone,” said Cabrera, who has been banged up for a couple of months but homered in Game 2. “When you swing at balls, you’re not able to have success.”
Fielder looked even more overmatched against Koji Uehara, striking out on three pitches.
Uehara also worked the ninth for a save, ensuring that Lackey’s fine performance wouldn’t go to waste.
In St Louis, Matt Holliday blasted a 426-foot homer and Shane Robinson hit a pinch-hit solo shot as the Cardinals beat Los Angeles 4-2 in game four of the NLCS.
Holliday’s monster shot into left field in the third inning was the first home run of the series for the Cardinals who now lead 3-1 as they try to reach their second World Series in three years.
“I got it good,” Holliday said. “Have I hit further ones? Maybe, but not in that kind of situation.”
The National League Central Division champion Cardinals can advance with a victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon.
Holliday’s homer scored Matt Carpenter to make it 3-0 in front of a crowd of 53,992 at Dodger Stadium. It followed Carpenter’s double earlier in the inning that plated Daniel Descalso to open the scoring.
St Louis picked an opportune time to break out of their home run slump as they batted an anemic .134 through the first three games of the series.
Holliday was two-for-four with two RBIs for the Cardinals, who finished with six hits in the contest.
“Right now we have no problem celebrating this one,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “Every one of these in the post-season are so tough to come by.”