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They've struck out and they're worn out, but the Red Sox lead the ALCS

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

DETROIT -- Back and forth he went.

Jon Lester walked from the dugout to the clubhouse, and from the clubhouse back to the dugout.

He wasn't pitching. He was just watching. But in an American League Championship Series where every at-bat can change a series and a season, watching can be just as exhausting.

The Red Sox are leading this ALCS, two games to one, which only means that the Tigers are leading, two heartbreaks to one. And even if Tuesday's 1-0 Red Sox win wasn't as stunning and dramatic as Sunday's 6-5 game, it was every bit as tough on the nerves of those who played -- and just as much on those who didn't.

"I'm worn out," David Ortiz said when this one was over.

He should be. Ortiz has still driven in more runs than all his teammates combined, even though he went hitless Tuesday and is just 1 for 10 in the series.

The Red Sox have scored just seven runs in three games. They've struck out 53 times. They're hitting .133 overall, and .087 against the Tigers' three starters.

The Tiger starting pitchers are dominating this ALCS.

But the Red Sox are leading it.

"At the end of the day, starting pitching is a huge part of what decides a game," said Jake Peavy, who will start Game 4 for the Red Sox on Wednesday. "But it's not the only thing."

That's even true on a day like Tuesday, when Justin Verlander gave up a run and John Lackey didn't. Mike Napoli's seventh-inning home run off Verlander provided this game's only score, but not its only moment.

In fact, when the Tigers had runners at first and third with one out in the eighth inning, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder due up, the Napoli homer stood a chance of becoming as much of an afterthought as the home runs that Cabrera and Alex Avila hit in Game 2.

It was the moment of the game, every bit as much as the Ortiz grand slam was the moment of Game 2.

Red Sox manager John Farrell stuck with Junichi Tazawa against Cabrera, in part because Cabrera was 2 for 4 with two home runs off closer Koji Uehara (and 1 for 3 with two strikeouts off Tazawa), and in part because the Red Sox wanted to attack the less-than-100 percent Cabrera with fastballs.

And in the Red Sox dugout, they weren't thinking strikeout.

"You're saying hit a ground ball, hit it at someone," Lester said. "But Taz made some great pitches."

He threw four straight fastballs, and Cabrera swung through three of them. Then came Uehara against Fielder, and a three-pitch strikeout that left the Tigers scoreless.

"That was huge, a huge turn of the tide," Lester said. "To get a swing and miss with one out and a guy on third, that was a big turn in our momentum."

Lester, who lost 1-0 in Game 1, paced as he watched this one. It's been that kind of series, one where Peavy hasn't yet thrown a pitch but might as well have been in all three games.

"When you're done with these games, even if you just watched, you feel like you just got done working out for three hours," he said. "After Game 2, I felt like I'd been in a heavyweight fight -- without even being in the game.

"But that's the way it should be. I really think that. The emotion, the energy, that's what it's about."

Peavy thought back to all the moments when Tuesday's game could have changed. There was the long Jonny Gomes foul ball that might have made it 2-0 Red Sox in the second, and the long Ortiz fly ball that Andy Dirks caught at the fence in the fourth.

The Tigers got runners to third base in the first inning against Lackey, and again in the fifth. They had a runner at second base in the seventh, when Craig Breslow took over for Lackey and got out of the inning. They had the runners at first and third in a eighth, and a leadoff single from Victor Martinez in the ninth.

It was 1-0, but there was plenty happening.

It was 1-0, because Verlander was so good and Lackey was, too.

"I knew I was going to have to pitch pretty good," Lackey said. "[Verlander] is having a great career, great season, great postseason. The guys came through, the boy took care of me once again."

The boy is Napoli, Lackey's teammate with the Angels and again now with the Red Sox. Lackey was here the day that Napoli, just off the plane from the minor leagues, homered off Verlander in his first major-league at-bat.

Tuesday, he saw it happen again, in a much bigger game and a much bigger situation.

He saw it happen, in a series where one swing really can change everything.

"We didn't take many good swings," Peavy said. "But we took the one big one."

That, too, could be the story of this series. Ortiz changed it with one big swing Sunday, and Napoli put the Red Sox a nose in front with another big swing Tuesday.

It sounds so simple. It looked so complicated, so tense, so exhausting.

The guys who played in it were worn out.

The guys who didn't were worn out even more.

 
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