Red Sox digging into bag of tricks

DETROIT -- Three games between the two highest-scoring offenses in baseball. A total of 13 runs scored, four coming on one David Ortiz swing. Two games decided by a 1-0 score. Sixty-eight strikeouts, an average of almost 23 a game.

The term "Hitless Wonders'' comes to mind, although the patent on that one was claimed more than a century ago by a Chicago baseball team, the 1906 White Sox, who were shut out 16 times that season and scored two or fewer runs 57 times, yet still managed to win the World Series.

To which the Boston Red Sox, who came out on the high side of Tuesday's 1-0 duel between John Lackey and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and now lead the American League Championship Series two games to one, shrug their shoulders and point to the win column.

"Winning kind of hides everything, right?'' outfielder Jonny Gomes said after Mike Napoli's seventh-inning home run off Verlander proved the biggest hit in Motown and produced the day's only run. "It's pretty easy to leave these double doors with a win, regardless of what happens at the plate.

"We're going against the best. They've got some salty veterans with some good stuff, well-decorated. But we're going to find a way to touch the plate any way possible, and we were able to do that tonight.''

On Sunday night in Fenway Park, the Red Sox won a game started by Max Scherzer, the 21-game winner and odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award.

On Tuesday afternoon it was Verlander, who had to make room on his mantel not only for the Cy Young Award in 2011 but the MVP trophy as well. That version of Verlander was spotted only intermittently for much of this season, but had reemerged with a vengeance in September.

It had been nearly a month since Verlander had given up a run -- the last man to score against him was Justin Smoak of the Mariners, who took him deep in Detroit on Sept. 18. In his past four starts, Verlander had allowed 15 hits, while striking out 43 and walking six.

And his string of zeroes had grown to 34 innings in a row -- 21 in the postseason -- when he began the seventh inning by retiring Ortiz on a roller into the shift. The next batter was Napoli, whose baptism into the big leagues had come courtesy of Verlander.

In 2006, Verlander had been a relative newcomer himself, but at 23 was well on his way to winning 17 games and being named the AL Rookie of the Year. Facing Verlander in the third inning that day in May, Napoli drove a 1-and-2 pitch over the left-center-field fence in Comerica Park, becoming just the third Angels player to go deep in his first at-bat in the majors.

"I was here for that,'' Lackey said. "It was pretty cool. He got called up and hit one off Verlander on a curveball. I said, 'We need that dude, keep him around here.'''

Seven years later, with Lackey and Napoli now in Red Sox uniforms, Napoli drove a full-count fastball from Verlander that left the premises in roughly the same area he did when he had no whiskers on his chin, never mind an English hedgerow.

Between those two at-bats, Napoli had faced Verlander 24 more times, with seven hits. None of them had gone for extra bases.

"Having faced him a couple of times already, I knew he wasn't seeing the fastball that great,'' Verlander said afterward. "I decided to challenge him. 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 home run came at a time when some folks were wondering why Red Sox manager John Farrell still was giving Napoli at-bats. He had struck out in all six of his previous at-bats in this series, and had whiffed in 10 of his 19 at-bats in the postseason.

"He's kind of going with the flow of traffic, with what's going on,'' Gomes said. "You can't point your fingers at Napoli. They struck us out [32] times in two games. They didn't strike out Napoli [32] times. Big punt, big swing of the bat right there.

"Mike Napoli, we saw that over 20 times this year. We've seen it a bunch of times in the past. That bat gets through the zone hot. It was power on power right there, and Napoli took just one swing.''

The home run was made that much sweeter, Napoli said, because it came in support of Lackey, who gave a turn-back-the-clock effort reminiscent of his Game 7 World Series victory as an Angels rookie in 2002.

"I got to see John when he was really good in Anaheim,'' Napoli said. "Coming up as a rookie, I looked up to him. He was a veteran to me, showed me the way on the field, off the field, how to carry myself. So to see what he's gone through and to bounce back like this, it's awesome.

"It's a good feeling just to see a friend be able to overcome some stuff and get healthy and be who he is.''

And it was good for folks to notice, teammate Jake Peavy said, that someone other than Verlander was drawing a start. That was something, Peavy noted before the game, that had appeared to escape the notice of those talking and writing about the impending matchup. Peavy had talked to Lackey, he said, just before he went to the interview room.

"I'd just been around him before I came in there, and it was just something that came out of me,'' Peavy said. "'Guys, we have a guy going tonight who's been there and done it, too.''

Not that Lackey needed any extra incentive, Peavy said.

"He takes 'angry pills' whenever he pitches,'' Peavy said. "His demeanor is always the same. We as a team knew he was prepared and had a chance to do something special. He made us look smart.''

Lackey's annoyance grew exponentially when the power went out at Comerica just as he was about to start the second inning. An electric substation had gone offline momentarily, according to the official explanation, but it gave Lackey 17 minutes to stew in the Sox dugout. It also gave him a needed deep breath, according to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who said Lackey had been overthrowing a bit in the first.

But after retiring 18 of 20 batters in a stretch that began when he coaxed a fly ball out of Victor Martinez to strand runners on the corners in the first, Lackey seemed borderline homicidal when Farrell came out to replace him with left-hander Craig Breslow with two out in the seventh and Martinez on first. Lackey had just retired the dangerous Jhonny Peralta after falling behind in the count, 3 and 0.

"He's such a competitor, you know he wants the ball, he's not going to give it up unless someone wrestles it out of his hands,'' said Breslow, who created some additional anxiety when he walked Alex Avila before retiring Omar Infante on a force play.

"But at the same time,'' Breslow said, "John's the first guy who says, 'We're in the postseason, there's no room for me to think about getting the last out or me to get the win.' As long as we get the last out, that's what we care about.

"When you have 25 guys who believe that, I think really good things can happen.''

The Sox took a torturous path to that last out, but arrived intact. Breslow walked Austin Jackson with one out in the eighth, and Junichi Tazawa gave up a single to Torii Hunter, advancing Jackson to third. The next two hitters? Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Detroit's assembly line mashers.

Tazawa struck out Cabrera with fastballs away. Koji Uehara entered and whiffed Fielder on three pitches, the last his trademark splitter.

"Nerve-wracking, I'll tell you what,'' Breslow said. "But this is what we live for, to pitch in the postseason, to have an impact on the game.

"I probably wasn't as sharp as I have been in the past, but I got outs when I needed to, and Taz obviously put up a huge strikeout. And when you get Koji in the game, there's a sense of relief. Even though the Tigers had a runner in scoring position and a tough hitter, Koji was Koji.''

And the Red Sox were, well, the Red Sox.

"You can make more of these games than maybe they are,'' Breslow said, "but at the same time, to come out here and win the first game and maybe feed off what we started back in Fenway a couple of days ago is huge.''