DETROIT -- Coming into the season, Red Sox fans associated John Lackey with one thing, his role in one of the great September collapses in baseball history, and they despised him for it.
The righthander was front and center in the 2011 fried-chicken-and-beer controversy that helped cost the Red Sox a postseason bid and manager Terry Francona his job.
But after missing 2012 because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Lackey slowly began to alter the story this season. And the 34-year-old might have completely changed the narrative on his Boston career Tuesday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, outdueling the expected winner, Justin Verlander.
Pitching one of the gems of a postseason that has had more than a few, Lackey controlled the Tigers for 62/3 innings of a 1-0 victory by the Red Sox in front of 42,327 at Comerica Park.
When asked if it was his best moment in four years in Boston, Lackey said, "It's definitely probably the biggest game I've pitched here.''
The Red Sox, who have lost and now won a 1-0 contest in the series, took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven despite leading in only four of 27 innings.
"Today John Lackey took it upon himself to pitch a heck of a game,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Game 4 is Wednesday night, with Detroit's Doug Fister taking on Jake Peavy.
"It was awesome, for sure,'' said Lackey, who posted a 3.52 ERA this year after putting up a combined 5.26 ERA in his first two seasons in Boston. "I mean, I knew I was going to have to pitch pretty good today.''
Verlander got most of the attention coming into the game, and for good reason. He brought in a 28-inning scoreless streak, which included eight innings in his 3-0 Game 5 victory over the A's in the ALDS.
"There's no pressure,'' Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "It was 2-1 in the Division Series and we came back.''
Verlander was outstanding again, allowing one run and four hits in eight innings and striking out 10. But one of those hits, on his 100th pitch, was a 3-and-2, 96-mph fastball with one out in the seventh that Mike Napoli hit into the visitors' bullpen in left-center.
The home run snapped Verlander's scoreless stretch at 34 innings, accounting for the first run he had allowed since Sept. 18. Coincidentally, Napoli's homer in his first career at-bat in 2006 when he was an Angel, came at Comerica . . . against Verlander.
"Obviously, I'll never forget that,'' Napoli said.
No doubt, Tuesday's's blast will replace it on his most memorable list.
"He threw me two sliders before the fastball,'' said Napoli, who was 2-for-19 this postseason before the homer. "I felt comfortable, I took them really well, and I felt comfortable.''
Lackey looked more than comfortable in allowing four hits and no walks and striking out eight in 62/3 innings. He had to wait out a 17-minute delay because of a power outage before he took the mound for the second inning.
Lackey was visibly irritated at being pulled by Farrell with two outs and a man on in the seventh. But Farrell's bullpen moves all worked, including calling on closer Koji Uehara for a four-out save.
The Tigers went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, a frustrating effort that included a first-and-third, one-out situation in the eighth inning. Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder couldn't come through against Junichi Tazawa and Uehara, both striking out.
"It was just tremendous pitching,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "This is what it's about in postseason, is good pitching.''