BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox were able to relax as they watched Justin Verlander finish Oakland off in the playoffs, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t have to face him in Game 1 of the AL championship series.
Instead, they get the league’s ERA champion, Anibal Sanchez.
Followed by Max Scherzer, the major league leader in wins.
And then comes Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young winner and MVP.
“I don’t think there are really any consolation prizes when you’re playing them,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said on Friday, when the teams worked out in preparation for Game 1 of the ALCS. “All their guys are really good. ... All their guys are horses.”
A former Red Sox prospect, Sanchez will start the best-of-seven series opener at Fenway Park against Boston left-hander Jon Lester. Sanchez led the AL with a 2.57 ERA even though he spent most of the year as the No. 3 pitcher in the rotation, behind Verlander and Scherzer.
“I feel like our rotation is relentless,” Verlander said. “There’s no sigh of relief. There’s no break. Every day, you’re getting somebody that’s really good.”
Verlander has been one of baseball’s top pitchers for years, and he’s a big reason why the Tigers have returned to the ALCS 3 years in a row. But he pitched on Thursday night, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the clincher against Oakland.
Scherzer came on in relief in Game 4 to help force the series to the limit. That leaves Sanchez, who allowed five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his Game 3 start against the A’s, for the opener against Boston.
“You think that to not have to face Justin for the first few games is a relief,” Red Sox starter Jake Peavy said, “until you realize this team doesn’t stop. When you’ve got the ERA leader followed by Max Scherzer, who’s probably going to win the Cy Young, there’s a reason they are where they are.”
The Red Sox will start Lester in Game 1, thanks to their ability to wrap up their series against Tampa Bay in four games. The 29-year-old cancer survivor, who started the clincher of Boston’s 2007 World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies, was 2-0 with a 4.26 ERA against the Tigers this year.
“That’s good for us for Jonny Lester not having to throw a Game 5 and going into this series on extended rest,” said Clay Buchholz, who will pitch Game 2 on 5 days’ rest. “He’ll be in a good position from jump street, and that’s kind of what we’ve been doing all year, trying to feed off each other.”
John Lackey will start Game 3 for Boston, with Peavy scheduled to face Detroit’s Doug Fister in Game 4.
The Red Sox have played only four meaningful games since clinching the AL East on Sept. 20, and many of them gathered at David Ortiz’s house to watch the finale of the Tigers’ series against Oakland.
Friday was their third off day in a row, and several Red Sox spent it horsing around on the field while waiting for the workout to begin.
Mike Napoli sunbathed on the pitcher’s mound with his shirt off, while Ryan Dempster hit golf balls from third base toward the outfield. Peavy, in a white tank top and jeans, set up the team’s cigar store American Indian mascot on third base for pictures; David Ross combed the statuette’s beard.
Peavy said the team is “as loose as it gets.”
But Lester said it’s time to turn their attention to the next goal.
“We came in yesterday, had a pretty light workout. And I think guys were still enjoying the fact of what we just accomplished,” Lester said. “But at the same time realizing that today we’ve got to start focusing on our next challenge.”
The Tigers celebrated in Oakland on Wednesday night, and then took a red-eye to Boston in order to arrive in time for their brief workout. Manager Jim Leyland joked that his team was used to getting in at 9 a.m. – but not because of a game.
Still, he said, the flight was a lot easier because of the victory.
“There’s no being tired in the playoffs. This is what you play for,” Verlander agreed. “It’s easy for me to say that, though. I’ll probably be taking a nap or two. I won’t be doing much the first couple of games here.”