ALCS Game 3 Preview: Red Sox still must find answers for Tigers starters

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The euphoria of Sunday night's epic comeback win was still fresh in the minds of the Red Sox as they arrived at Comerica Park, still basking in the glow of the eighth-inning grand slam from David Ortiz and their walkoff win an inning later. But as the Red Sox went through their off-day workout, it was impossible for them to revel too much in their accomplishments, knowing that when the ALCS resumes Tuesday afternoon, the Sox will have to figure out a way to beat Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander.

The Sox were barely able to make contact at times against Detroit's starters in Games and 1 and 2. They were no-hit for the first six innings in Game 1 by Anibal Sanchez and didn't collect a hit until the ninth inning of that game. For the first seven innings Sunday night, it was no better in Game 2. Max Scherzer held the Sox hitless through the first 5 2/3 innings and when he left after seven, had allowed just one run on two hits.

In the two games to date, the Red Sox are 2-for-40 with 25 strikeouts against Tiger starting pitching. And now, waiting in the wings, is Game 3 starter Justin Verlander, the highest-paid starting pitcher in the game and among the most accomplished with not only a Cy Young Award but an MVP to his credit.

"The work of Sanchez and Scherzer has been nothing short of spectacular," acknowledged John Farrell. "They've been dominant. We fee like (Tuesday's) starter in Verlander is going to be a similar if not more difficult challenge than what we faced already."

More difficult? Is that even possible? It would seem not. More than half of the team's outs against Scherzer and Sanchez were by strikeout. Against Sanchez, the Sox got two balls out of the infield; against Scherzer, who had far better command, the Sox managed three balls to the outfield, two of them hits.

Amongst themselves, the Red Sox spoke about trying to swing at more fastballs earlier in the count, but instead, found themselves taking pitches and falling into pitcher's counts, when Scherzer could use his curve and changeup.

"It's hard to have much of a plan when guys are throwing 96 on the black," bemoaned one member of the organization.

No less a figure than David Ortiz, whose eighth inning grand slam pulled the Sox even on the scoreboard and directed them to a win an inning later, suggested that the Sox -- himself included -- had been too jumpy in some at-bats in the first two games, too eager to break the offensive logjam the team
found itself in.

"The starting pitcher is probably going to dictate (whether we swing early in the count) and determine that," said Farrell, "particularly at the outset if we have to adjust. Our guys are well aware of that.

"We've had to do that a number of times this year and we've been successful in those types of games. We'll have to monitor and kind of take the temperature how Verlander comes out and make the necessary adjustments."

In the Division Series, the Sox took a more aggressive tact against Tampa Bay starter David Price and knocked him around for seven runs. Knowing that Price was a workhorse who could maintain his stuff and velocity well into late in the game, the Sox focused on swinging at strikes, even if it meant putting the ball in play early in the count and helping Price to limit his pitch count.

If they have to take the same approach with Verlander, they will. Either way, they realize the enormity of the task at hand.

"He's a guy who can throw strikes when he wants and balls when he wants," said Jonny Gomes. "He sees when guys are being aggressive and he can throw all three of his pitches for balls. At the same time, he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes. That's tougher than it sounds."

Verlander's regular season (13-12, 3.46) wasn't as sparking as two years ago when he was 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, earning both the Cy Young Award and AL MVP. But Verlander has seemingly peaked at the right time. In September, he had a 2.26 ERA in six starts.

In the Division Series, Verlander was even more masterful, going unscored upon over two starts and 15 innings against Oakland. Detroit manager Jim Leyland attributes the late-season turnaround to some mechanical adjustments that enabled Verlander, all 6-foot-5 of him, to throw the ball on a downward plane more consistently.

"At the same time," said Gomes, "he's a game over .500 (during the season), so he's been beaten. We've just got to grind it out, like we've been doing."

The Sox are adamant that while some adjustments are necessary, they're not about to change their offensive philosophy.

"We'd like to get some hits earlier, obviously," said Gomes. "At the same time, you look at 18 innings of ball that we've played, these games are won and lost in this series on runs and we tied them in the series in runs (six each). You can look at all the strikeouts and lack of hits, but the name of the game is runs. We didn't score any the first day, and we scored one more (than they did) in the second day.

"If you look at what happened in the eighth and ninth innings, we don't get frustrated. What the playoffs are about is not changing what got you here. If we get beat, we get beat. We've got to be beat being the 2013 Red Sox. Those first six innings of both games, that's not us. So we've just got to do what we did to get here. Those two games were probably two of the top games I've ever seen pitched."

And the Tigers can't possibly do that again. Can they?

- Sean McAdam, CSN New England

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