“It’s been funny for me to watch all the coverage of the game coming in,’’ he said before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. “I have heard John Lackey’s name mentioned three or four times. Almost like we didn’t have a starter going today. Our starter is pretty good, too.
“There ain’t any part of John Lackey that doesn’t think he’s going to win today and will do anything he can possibly do to make that happen.’’
Up to and including outpitching Justin Verlander, a task that no one outside of Lackey’s loose-fitting uniform truly believed he was capable of doing, with the exception of a clubhouse full of Lackey-backers who have lived this anything-is-possible season alongside the 34-year-old right-hander.
David Ortiz’s grand slam in Game 2 Sunday night had reinforced the conviction that nothing is beyond this team’s purview, and Lackey carried that torch through 6 2/3 innings in which he matched pitches with Verlander, who came into the game having gone nearly a full month since allowing a run.
Lackey then got a little help from his Japanese friends in the bullpen, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, who struck out Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, respectively, with runners on the corners in the eighth inning, preserving a 1-0 Red Sox victory that gave the Sox a 2-1 over the Tigers in the ALCS.
Verlander made one mistake -- if a full-count 96 mph fastball can be called that -- which Mike Napoli hit just over the left-field fence for the game’s only run.
Napoli, who had not put a ball in play in six previous at-bats in this series, striking out each time, connected with one out in the seventh after Verlander had held the Sox to two singles while striking out eight to that point.
Napoli’s home run ended a streak of 34 consecutive scoreless innings by Verlander, who had not allowed a run since Justin Smoak of the Mariners homered in Comerica Park on Sept. 18.
Verlander struck out six batters in a row between the second and third innings, and did not allow a hit until an infield single by Jonny Gomes with two out in the fifth, shortstop Jhonny Peralta a tad slow in his execution. Jacoby Ellsbury lined a one-out single in the sixth for Boston’s only other hit until Napoli connected.
But Lackey, in perhaps his biggest postseason win since winning Game 7 of the World Series in his rookie season of 2002, yielded nothing to Verlander in his relentless mastery of the Tigers.
The Tigers threatened twice, once in the first when singles by Torii Hunter and Fielder put runners on the corners, and again in the fifth, when Peralta hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on Alex Avila’s broken-bat grounder.
Sox manager John Farrell went to his bullpen in the seventh, much to Lackey’s distress. He had retired 17 of 18 Tiger batters before Martinez grounded a one-out single up the middle. Lackey fought back from a 3-and-0 count to retire the dangerous Peralta on a fly ball, and could be seen protesting to the Sox manager before Farrell summoned left-hander Craig Breslow.
Breslow walked Avila, but Infante bounced into a force play to end the inning.
Breslow opened the eighth by striking out pinch hitter Jose Iglesias on three pitches, but then walked Austin Jackson. Farrell waved in Tazawa, who gave up a line single to Hunter, Jackson motoring into third. That brought up Cabrera, who had reached base in 31 consecutive postseason games. Throwing him fastballs on the outer edge, Tazawa put Cabrera away with a 94 mph heater.
One more time, Farrell went to his pen, calling in Uehera, who whiffed Fielder on three pitches, the last a nasty splitter. Fielder has not had an RBI in the postseason since Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees a year ago.
Martinez opened the ninth with a base hit off Uehara, but then it was shutdown mode for the Sox closer, who induced Peralta to hit into a double play and struck out Avila. It was Uehara’s third save of the postseason; he also was the winning pitcher in Game 2.