Verlander ties K mark but allows decisive home run
Right-hander strikes out six straight to equal postseason record
DETROIT -- There have been four 1-0 games in the postseason so far. Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander has been on the losing end of two of them.
Verlander gave up a seventh-inning home run to Mike Napoli on Tuesday, and that was enough to ruin an otherwise terrific performance in a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Verlander was excellent, but Red Sox starter John Lackey -- with the help of his bullpen -- was better, and the Tigers are down two games to one in the best-of-seven ALCS, which resumes Wednesday night at 8 ET on FOX.
"JV threw a great game, we just couldn't get anything going," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said.
"He was obviously locked in," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He had that look, and so did their guy. One swing of the bat and they hit one over the fence, and we didn't."
Verlander also pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, but the Tigers ended up losing in the ninth to the Athletics. So far in three playoff starts, Verlander has allowed one run over 31 innings while allowing 10 hits and three walks against 31 strikeouts. He has just one win to show for it.
"Obviously, it's tough, but you want to win every time you take the mound," Verlander said. "Obviously, to give my team a chance to win today, I would have had to throw up all zeros, and I wasn't able to do that. I wouldn't say it's frustrating, it's you know, I think you kind of expect that in this series. It's just kind of the way it's going to go. It's going to be a battle for every single out, every single run."
Over the second and third innings, Verlander struck out six straight hitters, tying a postseason record. He finished with 10 strikeouts in eight innings, marking the sixth time he has had at least 10 strikeouts in a playoff game. That's another postseason record.
"I think the results speak more than what I can say," Verlander said. "But just as far as execution and my mechanics and everything that I worked so hard to get to, I feel like I was right where I need to be. Hopefully, I just maintain that. Hopefully, I have a few more starts in the postseason. Just stay right where I'm at."
Verlander retired 14 of the first 15 hitters he faced on Tuesday and took a two-hit shutout into the seventh. At that point, he had not allowed a run in 21 consecutive postseason innings and 34 overall going back to his final three starts of the regular season.
Verlander had also struck out Napoli in his two previous at-bats. Verlander went at him with all sliders in the second and fastballs in the fifth inning. In both at-bats, Napoli appeared overmatched. He was also, after the second at-bat, 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in this postseason.
When Napoli came up with one out in the seventh, Verlander started him out with three straight fastballs and got ahead, 1-2, in the count. Verlander came back with two sliders and both missed, running the count full. Verlander then threw a 96-mph fastball and Napoli hit it over the left-field wall for the only run of the game.
"Napoli really hadn't caught up with his fastball," catcher Alex Avila said. "You want to make a quality pitch, but you don't want to walk him. It just happened to come over the plate. He pitched a great game and made one mistake. The ball carried a little bit over the plate and Napoli put a good swing on it."
Verlander said he wasn't too concerned about walking Napoli with a full count.
"No, not really," Verlander said. "You know, you don't want to walk somebody; in a nothing/nothing game, that can start a rally. I felt like I had good control over all my pitches tonight. So pretty much whatever I picked I felt like I would be able to execute it to the point of not walking them."
Napoli entered the game with seven hits in 23 at-bats against Verlander in his career over both the regular and postseason. Napoli hit a home run off Verlander in his first Major League at-bat back on May 4, 2006, but he hadn't gone deep against him since then.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.