Mike Napoli's home run and steady pitching by Jon Lester led the Boston Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers, putting them one victory away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2007.
DETROIT // Mike Napoli provided the power and the Boston bullpen stymied Miguel Cabrera. Twice in three games, that formula has worked for the Red Sox, and now they’re one win from reaching the World Series.
Napoli opened the scoring with another home run, Junichi Tazawa again bested Cabrera in a crucial spot and the Red Sox edged the Detroit Tigers 4-3 Thursday night.
Boston returns to Fenway Park with a 3-2 lead in the American League Championship Series (ALCS). The Red Sox can win the American League pennant on Saturday, when the Tigers’ send right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer to face Boston’s right-hander Clay Buchholz in Game 6.
Four of the five games in the ALCS have been decided by one run.
“There’s probably a reason I don’t have any hair,” the Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It’s stressful.”
Cabrera was thrown out at the plate in the first inning, halting an early Detroit rally, and he hit into a double play against Tazawa with runners at the corners in the seventh. The Tigers scored a run on the grounder, but it was a trade-off the Red Sox were willing to make.
Napoli opened a three-run second with his homer off Anibal Sanchez. Detroit’s starters had allowed only three runs in 27 innings through the first four games of the series. After pitching six no-hit innings in Game 1, Sanchez allowed four runs – three earned – in six innings on Thursday.
Jon Lester allowed two runs and seven hits in 5.1 innings. He walked three and struck out three.
Down 4-2 in the seventh, the Tigers put runners on first and third with nobody out when Jose Iglesias and Torii Hunter singled. Cabrera, who struck out with runners on first and third against Tazawa in the eighth inning of a 1-0 loss in Game 3, hit a soft grounder to second for a double play this time.
“He pitched me out of the strike zone,” Cabrera said. “He was able to make some pitches out of the strike zone and he made some pitches when he needed to.”
Craig Breslow retired the slumping Prince Fielder to end the seventh and got the first out of the eighth. Boston’s Koji Uehara retired five straight for the save.
Now Detroit turns to Scherzer, a 21-game winner, to try to extend the season. The Tigers will have Justin Verlander ready to pitch Game 7, if there is one.
“We’ve got two very good pitchers that are going against us here, Max and Verlander,” the Boston manager John Farrell said. “So once we get to Saturday we’ll be focused in on the task at hand at that point.”
Detroit may be without their catcher, Alex Avila, in Boston. He left after the top of the fourth with a strained left knee.
Napoli’s drive easily cleared the 420-foot marker in centre and landed in the ivy above two rows of bushes. That was the start of a three-run second inning, and it was Napoli’s second homer of the series. His solo shot accounted for the only run of Game 3.
Napoli wasn’t all that concerned with where the ball went, as long as it cleared the wall. “It can go in the first row for all I care,” he said.
Detroit revamped its lineup before its Game 4 victory – dropping Austin Jackson from the leadoff spot to eighth and moving almost everyone else up a place. The Tigers went with that same general framework on Thursday, but it was Farrell’s adjustments that paid off.
After Napoli’s homer, Jonny Gomes – starting in left field instead of Daniel Nava – reached on an error by Cabrera at third base. One out later, the 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, who started at third instead of Will Middlebrooks, hit a double.
David Ross, catching in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, doubled with men on second and third. Only one run scored on the play because Bogaerts did not get a good jump from second, but he came home anyway when Sanchez couldn’t handle Jacoby Ellsbury’s line drive back to the mound. It went off Sanchez’s glove for an infield single and a 3-0 lead.
Boston missed out on another run that inning when Ross was thrown out at home on Shane Victorino’s grounder. Ross plowed through Avila at the plate – then gave Avila a pat on the backside after he held onto the ball.
Ross and Avila have both dealt with concussion problems this year, and Avila was later hit in the mask by a foul ball.
In the third inning, Napoli doubled, went to third on a groundout and scored on a two-out, two-strike wild pitch by Sanchez to make it 4-0.
Sanchez allowed nine hits and struck out five.
Lester worked in and out of trouble. He was helped in the first inning when Cabrera was thrown out at home for the third out. Cabrera has been slowed by a number of injuries over the last couple months, and when Jhonny Peralta singled to left, it appeared the Tigers would have the bases loaded with two outs and Omar Infante batting.
But coach Tom Brookens waved Cabrera around third, and when Brookens changed course and put up the stop sign, the Detroit slugger ran through it and was out at home on a play that was not close.
“Tommy was waving,” Leyland said. “In defence of him, the natural instinct is to wave right away – you don’t want to stop him really too quick in case something would happen in the outfield with the ball, the guy would boot it or something. It’s hard to get him going again. He just held him too late. With Cabrera right now, you’ve got to be cautious.”
Cabrera managed an RBI single in the fifth. With two on and one out in the sixth, the Red Sox pulled Lester, bringing in Tazawa. Pena immediately singled home a run, but Jackson hit into an inning-ending double play.