Red Sox continue to grind out improbable wins vs. Tigers

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They've yet to get a hit before the fifth inning. They've struck out 42 times in three games. At times, getting the ball out of the infield has represented a moral victory of sorts. And yet, somehow, someway, the Red Sox lead the American League Championship Series two games to one.

How is that possible? It's certainly not probable. For innings at a time, their bats seem allergic to the baseball, avoiding contact at all costs.

Until the seventh inning Tuesday, when Mike Napoli drove a pitch from Justin Verlander out to left-center, they hadn't led for the entire series (excepting the win in Game 2, which came in the bottom of the ninth).

If this were a fight, the Red Sox would have lost nearly every round on the judges' scorecards, but managed to find themselves unanimous winners after the final bell. The Sox keep absorbing the body blows, but avoiding the knockouts.

The boxing metaphor is more apt than you think. They're fighters, alright, and tough ones at that.

"I would think, at this point in time," said Jake Peavy, who goes Wednesday in Game 4, "if you're a Boston Red Sox fan, or even if you're not, you understand this team is tough and this team is going to grind it out. We're going to play 27 outs and we're going to play them as hard as we can play them."

The Sox knew that they'd have to contend with Detroit's elite starting rotation, which, if anything, has exceeded expectations. As good as they as they were expected to be, they've been better than advertised.

But it hasn't been enough to help the Tigers.

Justin Verlander, who came into Game 3 having not allowed a run in two previous post-season starts and who last was scored upon on Sept. 18, retired 18 of the first 21 hitters he faced. Of the two hits he allowed, only one left the infield. Only one runner reached scoring position in the those first six

"The game was unfolding as the first two had," said John Farrell. "We're up against very good pitching every day we walk to the plate."

But John Lackey was better. He had to pitch out of a first-and-third jam in the first -- and did. He had to deal with a leadoff double by Alex Avila, which gave the Tigers a runner in scoring position with no outs -- and did.

And when Lackey left, to his great consternation and not without a fair bit of profanity, he had outpitched Verlander. Not in the strikeout totals and not on the radar guns, but rather, where it counted: on the scoreboard.

Red Sox 1, Tigers 0.

Which is how it looked at the end, after the Red Sox bullpen navigated through some extremely choppy waters in the eighth inning.

On paper, none of this makes sense. John Lackey outpitching Justin Verlander? That shouldn't happen. Mike Napoli, benched in the previous game, with 10 strikeouts in 17 at-bats, shouldn't take Verlander out of the ballpark. Junichi Tazawa, who not long ago represented everything Red Sox fans found worrisome about the team's set-up relief corps, shouldn't overpower Miguel Cabrera with the tying-run 90 feet away and the go ahead run on base.

But all of that happened.

"We're going to find a way to touch the plate anyway possible," said Jonny Gomes, "and we did that tonight."

Just once, mind you. But thanks to a heroic effort by Lackey and some relief work that defied logic, that was all that was necessary.

It's easy to forget how close the Red Sox came to coming to Detroit halfway to the off-season, their year on the brink. But having rallied to win Game 2, they now stand in firm control of the ALCS.

Put yourself on the Tigers' shoes: They were four outs away from being up two games to none, and now, they are instead trailing two games to one.

Their starters have been near perfect, allowing two runs in 21 innings and yet they trail. They've held the Red Sox to a .133 batting average.

"You can't pitch any better than they have," said David Ortiz with admiration.

Not that it's done them much good.

"There wasn't anyone in here who didn't think the game was going to go in our favor today," said Peavy. "That's just the way it is. This team is confident and we'll do anything we can do and win, lose or draw, we're going to walk away knowing that we're going to empty the tank.

"But we believe we're going to win. That's just the way it is and that's the way it should be."

- Sean McAdam, CSN New England

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