Four Real? Red Sox vs Tigers 9-3-13

Jon Lester struck out a season-high nine to lead the Red Sox past
Tigers ace Max Scherzer on Tuesday at Fenway (Boston Herald photo)

Jan-Christian Sorensen Contributing Writer was labeling this one as the “Ace-off”.

And while both Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Boston’s Jon Lester more than lived up to the advance billing, it was the Red Sox that managed to outwit the Tigers and scrape together a 2-1 victory in Game Two of the three-game set at Fenway Park on Tuesday.

At first glance, the numbers didn’t favor Lester — he came into the game with a 5.26 ERA and a .304 opponent average lifetime against the Tigers — but he’d also posted quality starts in eight of his last nine outings, going 4-3 with a 2.75 ERA over that span.

Scherzer, meanwhile, entered the game 19-1 overall and a spotless 8-0 with a 2.14 ERA on the road this year, but was just 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA at Fenway in his career.

Something had to give.

Thankfully, it wasn't Lester, who put on one of his best performances of the year, going seven strong and allowing only one run on eight hits while walking none and striking out a season-high nine to improve to 13-8 on the year while lowering his ERA to 3.88.

Scherzer, meanwhile, made it seven innings, striking out eight and walking three, but was denied his 20th win of the season and saddled with the loss thanks solely to Will Middlebrooks, who brought in both runs with a single in the fifth.

Koji Uehara came on in the ninth and recorded yet another 1-2-3 inning to continue his magical season as Red Sox closer and earn his 17th save of the year.

This one wasn’t just another game in yet another series — it was a barometer for how Boston might fare in the postseason not just in a potential playoff matchup against the Tigers but facing any given team’s No. 1 gun.

To that end, the Sox looked like they could hold their own.

Also to Boston’s credit, the team chalked up the win without the services of two key players, as centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury sat out the game with a sore left thumb and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia got the night off to rest a lower back strain that will likely keep him out of the lineup for a few more days.

Here are the four at-bats that changed the game:

1) Getting’ Iggy With It: In the second, former Red Sock Jose Iglesias — who helped turn three big double plays in the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the Sox Monday — got the better of his former team once again, ripping a pitch to center to cash in Omar Infante to give Detroit a 1-0 lead.

2) Brayan-Cramp: On the very same play, Brayan Pena tried to score from first and was out by a mile at the plate on the throw home by Shane Victorino for the third out of the inning.

3) The Force Is With You: After Torii Hunter singled with two out to load the bases in the fifth, Lester got Miguel Cabrera to ground into a force out at second to keep more Detroit runs off the board.

4) Where there’s a Will, There’s a Way: After Stephen Drew hit a ground-rule double to center to put two men in scoring position in the fifth, Will Middlebrooks smoked the first pitch he saw from Scherzer up the middle to bring home Gomes and Drew and give the Red Sox a 2-1 advantage.

In a later start Tuesday night on the West Coast, the Tampa Bay Rays — losers of eight of their last nine — beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 7-1 to remain 5.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox in American League East Division.

Tomorrow night, Boston closes out the series against Detroit by sending right hander Ryan Dempster (7-9, 4.75 ERA) to the hill to take on Rick Porcello (11-7, 4.44 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. EST.

Twitter: @jan_doh