One main reason the Boston Red Sox signed John Lackey to a 5-year, $82.5-million contact before the 2010 season was his reputation as a big-game pitcher. Whether you love him or hate him, he doesn’t fear the big stage. He relishes it.
His task yesterday appeared overwhelming to us outsiders, but not to him.
Everyone in New England, Michigan and the entire baseball world knew what the righty had to do, but could he do it?
Lackey needed to pitch out of his mind and outduel Detroit ace Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP who had thrown 27.0 straight scoreless innings with 43 strikeouts over his past four starts.
Lackey did just that, delivering an historic performance in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. He became only the third Red Sox starting pitcher in franchise history to win a 1-0 postseason game.
With their 1-0 victory over the Tigers in Game 3 at Comerica Park, Lackey and the Red Sox took a 2-1 best-of-seven series lead. Boston and Detroit play Game 4 today at 8 p.m. at Comerica.
Lackey joined Babe Ruth, who won 1-0 over the Cubs in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series, and Bruce Hurst, who won 1-0 against the Mets in Game 1 of the 1986 World Series.
The right-hander — who had missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and who often has been criticized during his four-year tenure with Boston — hurled 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while walking nobody and striking out eight batters.
Meanwhile, Mike Napoli’s solo homer (estimated at 402 feet) off Verlander with one out in the seventh inning accounted for the game’s lone run.
Calling Lackey a big-game pitcher is not hyperbole but reality. He has a 3.11 ERA in 16 postseason outings, including 14 starts. His resume includes being the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series with the Angels as a rookie.