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With one more big hit (and lots of strikeouts), Red Sox lead the ALCS

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

DETROIT -- These games have been crazy, baseball's two highest-scoring teams putting on strikeout shows.

The pitching has been incredibly great. The hitters on both sides have seemed amazingly overmatched.

Every hit feels like a small victory. A home run feels not just game-changing, but possibly even series-changing.

David Ortiz hit a huge one in Game 2 Sunday night. Mike Napoli hit another that seemed almost as big and handed the Red Sox Game 3, 1-0, and gave them a two games to one lead in this American League Championship Series.

Three games in, we've had two 1-0 games and another that was 5-1 before the eighth-inning Ortiz grand slam. Three games in, the six starting pitchers have combined for 53 strikeouts and just eight runs allowed -- five of them by Clay Buchholz.

The Red Sox have just 12 hits in 90 at-bats in the series -- a .133 batting average. They've struck out 43 times.

And that's the team leading this series.

In the first 44 years the ALCS was played, there were exactly four games that finished 1-0. Three games into this ALCS, each team has already won a game while scoring just a single run.

Justin Verlander was outstanding in Tuesday night's Game 3. And he lost, because Napoli hit a seventh-inning home run and the Tigers never scored at all against John Lackey and three Red Sox relievers.

"One pitch out of 120," Red Sox Game 1 starter Jon Lester said. "One pitch that got a little too much of the plate."

But that's been the story of this ALCS. One pitch determines winning or losing.

The Red Sox have done just enough to survive three consecutive great outings by Tiger starters Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and then Verlander. They lead the series, and they've assured that even in the worst-case scenario, they'll have a chance to win it this weekend at home at Fenway Park.

It took the key Napoli home run, just the third Red Sox hit of the day, on Verlander's 100th pitch. But it also took 6 2/3 outstanding innings from Lackey, and seven big outs from the bullpen.

Lackey had nearly as many strikeouts as Verlander (he had eight, while Verlander had 10). He allowed exactly as many hits (four). And while Verlander got four more outs, Lackey didn't allow any runs.

In games like this, the drama is big, and the confrontations are huge. And for the last two games, the Red Sox are winning almost all the big ones.

It wasn't just Ortiz against Joaquin Benoit and Napoli against Verlander. It was also the eighth inning Tuesday, when the Tigers had runners at first and third with one out and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder coming up.

Junichi Tazawa struck out Cabrera. Koji Uehara struck out Fielder.

And for one more big inning, the Red Sox held the Tigers scoreless.

The Tigers have held the Red Sox scoreless in plenty of innings in these three games, too. The Sox have scored six runs, and four of them came on one big Ortiz swing.

That's how this series has gone. One swing can matter greatly.

And for two days, the Red Sox have had the two biggest ones.

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