MacArthur: Brilliant pitching shines in playoffs

Scott MacArthur
10/15/2013 11:13:44 PM
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DETROIT – Anibal Sanchez and Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, John Lackey and Justin Verlander, take a bow.

You can, too, Clay Buchholz, if we ignore the sixth inning of Game 2.

Doug Fister and Jake Peavy, you're up next in Game 4 and there's a lot to live up to.

The starting pitching in this American League Championship Series has been brilliant, the efforts of Sanchez and Lester and Scherzer we thought would be hard to top.

Yet, there was Lackey and Verlander duking it out, pitch for pitch, and not even a 17-minute power outage delay in the middle of the second inning could slow them down.

Verlander whipped through the Red Sox with an eight-pitch first inning, walked David Ortiz in a grueling at-bat to start the second but then struck out the side.

Then, he struck out the side in the third. Six consecutive strikeouts and after five innings, Boston had a measly infield single from Jonny Gomes to account for its offence.

Lackey, the forgotten man in this duel, was equal to the task. He stranded two Tigers in the first and went on a stretch of 10 straight retired, which included a span of four straight strikeouts in the second and third innings.

Those two first inning singles would be all Lackey would allow until the fifth, when Jhonny Peralta led off with a double. He'd get to third with one out but Lackey, true to form in this series, got a big strikeout of Omar Infante before getting Andy Dirks to ground out. Inning over, potential crisis (a run against) averted.

The game's lone mistake came with one out in the top of the seventh. Verlander, at that point working on a two-hitter, left a 3-2 fastball in Mike Napoli's wheelhouse. Napoli, struggling to a 2-for-24 (.083) playoffs at the time, belted the pitch over the left centerfield fence.

"I knew he wasn't seeing the fastball that great," said Verlander. "I decided to challenge him and that's, I made a little bit of a mistake. It was a little bit up and over the middle. You have to give him credit."

The Napoli home run would be all the Red Sox could get. It would be all the Red Sox would need.

Lackey was pulled after 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball. He didn't like manager John Farrell's decision and made it clear as he gave his skipper the ball before departing. Afterward, Farrell didn't feel he'd been shown up.

"You never want a pitcher to come out of the game," said Farrell. "If something is made of that, we don't want John to change who he is as a person and certainly who he is as a competitor."

"It's definitely probably the biggest game I've pitched (for Boston,)" said Lackey. "And probably a pretty big one, I guess."

Through three games, two of which have finished with 1-0 scores (each team has won one of those), the Red Sox and Tigers have combined to allow eight earned runs in 39 2/3 innings for a 1.82 ERA. Of the 159 outs recorded in the series, 53 have been via the strikeout, exactly one-third.

Imagine how the numbers would look if Buchholz hadn't hit a wall in Game 2.

Individually, the numbers break down like this:

Tigers starters: 21IP, 2ER (0.86 ERA), 6H, 9BB, 35K, 1HR, 0.714 WHIP.

Red Sox starters: 18.2IP, 6ER (2.89), 18H, 1BB, 18K, 2HR, 1.018 WHIP.

Just for fun, eliminating Buchholz's sixth inning in Game 2 turns the line into this:

18IP, 2ER (1.00 ERA), 13H, 1BB, 18K, 0HR, 0.778 WHIP.

Including the National League Championship Series, each of Verlander, Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Adam Wainwright has taken a loss despite pitching at least six innings. In that group, only Wainwright has allowed as many as two earned runs in his start.

The Tigers also lost Scherzer's start (seven innings, one earned run) but he wasn't tagged with the loss.

It's happened to all of those great - not good but great - pitchers in the last 96 hours.

This, as the Cardinals get great efforts from Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha, the Dodgers from Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Red Sox from the veteran Lackey and the Tigers from Sanchez.

These playoffs are about pitching. Brilliant pitching.

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