DETROIT — Comerica Park exploded with cheers and anticipation every time a Detroit Tiger hustled into third base. Three times, Detroit threatened with a baserunner 90 feet from home plate.
The Boston Red Sox saw only one player reach third base, and Mike Napoli was jogging there.
Napoli stepped on third and kept going, having clubbed a seventh-inning home run.
That was all Boston needed as the Red Sox topped Detroit 1-0 in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.
Boston took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a battle for every single out, every single run,” said Justin Verlander, the losing pitcher.
“It’s two heavyweights going at it.
“If you can’t appreciate this, you can’t appreciate baseball.”
To beat Verlander, Boston needed Napoli’s homer and a gem pitched by John Lackey, who lasted 62/3 scoreless innings. He escaped two of the jams with runners on third.
The bullpen escaped the third.
“They shut us down in a couple of big moments,” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said.
Boston’s pitching has been able to compete with the vaunted Tigers staff. Verlander came as advertised: eight innings, four hits, one run, 10 strikeouts.
In three games, Boston has recorded six hits off Detroit’s starters, scoring two runs while striking out 35 times.
Yet the Red Sox lead the series.
“The runs are pretty stingy,” Leyland said. “Just terrific pitching. I thought Lackey changed speeds and made pitches all day long.”
Lackey stranded runners on first and third in the first inning, and on third in the fifth.
Boston didn’t get a hit until the fifth, when Jonny Gomes beat out an infield single.
“As we’ve seen through the first three games, their starters have been outstanding,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.
In the seventh, Napoli came up with one out. He had already struck out twice. In fact, he was 0 for 6 in this ALCS, with six strikeouts.
“He’s put up some big numbers for us, and along with that come the strikeouts,” Farrell said. “We can’t turn away from a guy with his resume because he’s in a little bit of a downturn.”
Napoli, for his part, was “feeling comfortable. I’m not searching for anything.”
Verlander got ahead of Napoli 1-and-2 with three fastballs. He was out of the zone with two sliders for a full count.
Verlander decided to go back to the heat.
“I knew he wasn’t seeing the fastball that great,” Verlander said. “I decided to challenge him.
“It was a little bit up and over the middle. You have to give him credit.”
Napoli sent it over the left-field wall.
“I just kept going at it. Got a pitch I could handle,” said Napoli, whose first major league home run in 2006 came off Verlander.
Lackey exited the game with a runner on first base and two outs.
“I wasn’t quite ready to come out at that moment,” said Lackey, whose displeasure was obvious.
Reliever Craig Breslow walked a batter before getting out of the inning.
In the eighth, the Tigers had their best chance. Breslow issued a one-walk to Austin Jackson. Junichi Tazawa relieved and Torii Hunter singled to right, sending Jackson to third.
Closer Koji Uehara was warming up, but Farrell stayed with Tazawa and his fastball against the dangerous Miguel Cabrera.
“We felt like power was the best way to go there,” Farrell said. “It was a pivotal moment. You’re getting the best guy in baseball at the plate and you’re trying to preserve a one-run lead.”
Tazawa used four fastballs, all to the outside of the plate, to strike out Cabrera.
Uehara was summoned to face Prince Fielder and used three pitches – two fastballs and a splitter – to strike him out.
Uehara pitched the ninth for the save. He allowed a leadoff single to Victor Martinez but got Jhonny Peralta to ground into a double play, then struck out Alex Avila.
Three games are in the books. The difference in each has been one run, two by 1-0 scores.
“That’s what it’s about in the postseason,” Leyland said.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: