When great hitting meets stellar pitching, something has to give. Either the hitting will be potent enough to cause an increase in the pitchers' earned run statistics or the pitchers' stuff will quiet the bats of the opposing hitters. One thing is for certain; there is no chance for both the great hitting and the stellar pitching to live up to expectations.
What we are seeing in the ALCS so far is a prime example of the shift in offensive equilibrium that results when dominant pitching staffs square off against dominant offenses. So far, the pitching is winning, and it is not even close. Outside of Game 2, with the 11 combined runs the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers scored looking like a statistical outlier, the narrative of the ALCS has been solely about both teams' pitching staffs with the performances in Game 3 further driving the story, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Red Sox.
As we saw in Games 1 and 2, in Game, the Boston Red Sox offense experienced a sustained hitless streak. For the first 4.7 innings, the Red Sox hitters were unable to solve the pitching of Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who was as masterful as a pitcher can be. Not only did the Red Sox hitters remain hitless after 4.7 innings and 15 plate appearances, but they also struck out an embarrassing six straight times at one point; overall the Red Sox struck out eight times during that time frame, meaning more than half of their plate appearances ended in a strikeout.
Even after the Red Sox scored their first hit of the contest, there was no lessening of the brilliance of Verlander's pitching. Overcoming the Jonny Gomes single, he merely induced the next batter, Stephen Drew, to ground out, keeping the Red Sox from moving into scoring position.
The sixth inning saw the Red Sox have only slightly more success after Jacoby Ellsbury singled and later advanced to second base on a wild pitch, giving the Red Sox their first runner in scoring position. However, the achievement proved to be for naught as a Dustin Pedroia groundout with two outs ended any hope that the sixth inning would be the inning when the Red Sox finally put a run on the scoreboard.
Finally, in the seventh inning the Red Sox finally managed to score a run, a run that would prove to be their only one of the contest. Mike Napoli's home run to left center field shifted the game in the Red Sox's favor, provided them with a 1-0 lead, and added a win probability of .202 to their cause. Even so, hitting the home run in no way masked just how completely anemic the offense was for the entire contest; the Red Sox hitters finished with a hitting line of .129 BA/.156 OBP/.226 SLG with a .170 wOBA.
Still, the one run stood up, thanks in large part to the pitching of Red Sox starter John Lackey and Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara. Since Lackey did not serve up a home run or walk a batter like Verlander did, he ended up with the more dominant start, in terms of fielding-independent ERA (0.65 to 2.55) and expected fielding-independent ERA (1.88 to 2.46).
More importantly, Lackey did not allow a single earned run as he pitched himself out of the few trouble spots in which he found himself as a result of the four hits he allowed to the Tigers. Four times Lackey had to pitch with runners in scoring position and he stranded the Tigers base runners each time, succeeding in high-leverage situations that could have spelled doom for the Red Sox's win expectancy if he had failed.
Tuesday's start, in which he struck out eight of the 24 batters he faced, was easily one of his most valuable performances of the season, and it came at the most opportune time as the Red Sox needed to secure a pivotal Game 3 victory.
Assisting Lackey in making sure was that Lackey's start and the Red Sox's 1-0 lead held up was closer Koji Uehara, who came on in the eighth inning for a four-out save and to slam the door shut on the Tigers' comeback efforts. Uehara's only hiccup during his appearance was the lead-off single he allowed to Victor Martinez in the ninth inning, but he quickly recovered from that with the help of the Red Sox defense. The next batter he faced, Jhonny Peralta, grounded out to Stephen Drew, who with the assistance of Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli turned a double play. Uehara then struck out the final batter he faced, ending the contest.
The final scoring margin for Game 3 was not overly impressive, but even with the narrow win, the Red Sox still find themselves holding a decided 2-1 game advantage in the ALCS and having a leg up over the Tigers in the race to get to four wins first.