The Detroit Tigers had it set up perfectly: Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game, or even take the lead.
And then, they got nothing out of their star sluggers.
Cabrera and Fielder both struck out with runners at the corners to end the eighth inning as the Boston Red Sox held on to beat the Tigers 1-0 Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the AL championship series.
"We got opportunities to try to score and we didn't do our job," Cabrera said.
Cabrera, a leading contender to win his second straight AL MVP award, couldn't make contact against right-hander Junichi Tazawa and fanned chasing an outside fastball he couldn't reach.
"You're getting the best guy in baseball at the plate, trying to preserve a one-run lead," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And that was a swing moment for sure."
Fielder, with three straight 100-RBI seasons, then took a feeble swing and struck out against closer Koji Uehara.
"I couldn't barrel one up, but that happens," Fielder said. "He's a great pitcher, and that's why he's out there in that spot."
Justin Verlander pitched another gem for Detroit, but Red Sox starter John Lackey was just a little better.
Verlander didn't give up a hit for 5 2-3 innings and allowed only Mike Napoli's homer in the seventh. He was finished after eight innings, giving up four hits and striking out 10 against the Red Sox.
"To give my team a chance to win, I would have had to throw up all zeros," Verlander said. "I wasn't able to do that. "
The Tigers will hand the ball to right-hander Doug Fister on Wednesday night, hoping he is able to help them win Game 4 and tie the best-of-seven series.
Verlander became the first pitcher to strike out six straight batters in a league championship series, according to STATS, in the second and third. He also became the first pitcher in postseason history to strike out at least 10 and allow four or fewer hits in three straight games, STATS said.
The hard-throwing righty didn't regret many of the pitches he threw, but Napoli took advantage of one when he sent a full-count fastball over the left-center wall.
"I made a little bit of a mistake," Verlander said. "It was a little bit up and over the middle. You have to give him credit."
It was the first run Verlander had given up in the 2013 playoffs, ending a 21-inning scoreless streak. Including the regular season, he hadn't allowed a run in 34 straight innings for the longest shutout streak of his career.
After a 13-12 regular season with a 3.46 ERA, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner has been sensational in the postseason.
He pitched eight scoreless innings in Game 5 of the division series against Oakland, helping the Tigers advance to the ALCS for the fourth time since his rookie year of 2006.
Verlander was dialed in physically and mentally in Game 3 against Boston. He was seen pointing to his wrist, looking at pitching coach Jeff Jones, to check how quickly he was delivering to the plate with speedy Jacob Ellsbury on first base during the sixth inning. Verlander also appeared to be yelling at left fielder Andy Dirks to make sure he was ready if Ellsbury tagged to advance on a fly ball.
"He was obviously locked in," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He had that look, and so did their guy. One swing of the bat and they hit one over the fence and we didn't. But we had a couple of opportunities, and they shut us down in a couple of big moments."