DETROIT — Sunday night’s stunning comeback in Game 2 saved the Red Sox from what might have been a quick exit from the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
What it did not change was the fact that their potent offense has looked helpless against Detroit’s starting pitching.
The Sox scored one run through the first 16 innings of the series and were 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over 13 innings and struck out 25.
Now the Sox get Justin Verlander in Game 3 Tuesday afternoon. He threw 15 scoreless innings against Oakland in the Division Series, striking out 21.
“Bro, we’ve got our hands full,” said David Ortiz, the hero of Game 2.
Manager John Farrell said Mike Napoli would be back at first base for Game 3. He also suggested that Jonny Gomes could start in left field.
Napoli is an obvious choice to return. He is 7 of 23 against Verlander with a home run, five walks, and only five strikeouts. Mike Carp, who started Game 2 at first base, is 0 for 5 in his career against Verlander.
Napoli is 2 for 17 in the postseason with eight strikeouts but said he remains confident at the plate.
“I feel fine and I felt fine [Sunday], too. I want to get out there and compete,” Napoli said. “It’s the postseason. The spotlight is on every single little thing that you do. I feel good at the plate. I feel like I’ve just been missing some pitches.”
Gomes is 0 for 9 against Verlander with three walks and three strikeouts. Daniel Nava is 1 for 3 with a double. But Farrell believes in the intangibles Gomes adds to the mix.
“I think the one thing that might fly under the radar with Jonny is he’s a smart player,” Farrell said. “He can bring an overall personality to a team when he’s in the lineup vs. when he’s in the dugout. These are the things at this point in time in the year I think you have to consider strongly with the attitude and the makeup that we present on the field.”
Sanchez and Scherzer were “spectacular”, according to Farrell, and their success does not necessarily reflect poorly on the Red Sox hitters.
“You have to tip your hat to very good pitching being able to shut down good hitting. That can be very cliché, I know,” Farrell said. “The way they’ve thrown the ball and the consistency to the location, it’s been outstanding.”
Detroit has thrown offspeed pitches early in the count and used sliders to neutralize the lefthanded hitters in the order.
“They haven’t pitched behind the count much,” Farrell said.
Ortiz said Sunday the Red Sox would be better prepared after seeing how the Tigers pitched the first two nights. But Verlander, when he’s on, is even better than Sanchez and Scherzer.
Verlander faced the Sox once this season and lasted only five innings June 23 in Detroit, giving up four runs and throwing 112 pitches. The Tigers won that game, 7-5, with a late rally. But there is a blueprint for how to beat Verlander.
“We’re going to go with our approach and work to get him out of the game,” Napoli said. “We’ve played that way the whole season.”
John Lackey, who is starting Game 3 for the Red Sox, wasn’t remotely surprised Ortiz hit that game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning Sunday night.
If Ortiz feels pressure in such situations, his teammates never see it.
“He genuinely likes it. He likes being up there in those spots. He enjoys all the lights on him,” Lackey said. “You saw last night he didn’t get that fired up about it at the end. It was almost like he expected to do it.
“He’s a special player. He’s fun to play with.”
Said Farrell: “David came back in the dugout, he walked down the length of the dugout, typical handshakes. Maybe it’s because he’s done this before.
“But the one thing that we talked about after the game, there’s a calmness and presence about him in those key moments. His emotional control allows him to perform as he does.”
Ortiz’s grand slam was the first time in postseason play that four pitchers were charged with a run on the same play. It last happened in the regular season on Oct. 2, 2004, when Steve Finley of the Dodgers hit a walkoff grand slam against the Giants off the fourth pitcher of the inning, Wayne Franklin. The Dodgers scored seven runs in the ninth inning of that game.
It was the fourth postseason grand slam for the Red Sox, the first since J.D. Drew in the 2007 ALCS. Johnny Damon (2004 ALCS) and Troy O’Leary (1999 Division Series) had the others.
Ortiz now has three career postseason games with at least four RBIs. Only Yogi Berra and Jim Thome have also done that. Ortiz’s 54 career postseason RBIs rank second among active players (Derek Jeter has 61).
It also was only the third game-tying grand slam in postseason history. Ron Cey of the Dodgers had one against the Phillies and Steve Carlton in the 1977 NLCS. Vladimir Guerrero did it against the Red Sox and Mike Timlin in a Division Series game in 2004.
Sunday marked only the sixth time in postseason history a team came from at least four runs behind to win. It was the first time the Red Sox did that.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his only regret about the grand slam was not telling righthander Joaquin Benoit to pitch carefully to Ortiz. Benoit threw a first-pitch changeup over the outside corner that Ortiz was able to pull into the Red Sox bullpen in right field.
“I made a mistake by not reminding him if you end up walking [Ortiz], it’s OK,” Leyland said. “But like he said, he attacks hitters.”
Lance Parrish, a member of Detroit’s 1984 World Series champions, will throw out the first pitch Tuesday. Motown legends The Four Tops will perform the national anthem . . . It’s not often that Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington can get his far-flung staff in the same place at the same time. But assistant GM Mike Hazen, assistant GM Brian O’Halloran, vice president of player personnel Allard Bard, director of major league operations Zack Scott, senior director of minor league operations Raquel Ferreira, director of player development Ben Crockett, amateur scouring director Amiel Sawdaye, international scouting director Eddie Romero, and pro scouting director Jared Porter are all in Detroit for the series.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.