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Closing Time: Mike Napoli, Red Sox power to victory over Tigers, move one win from World Series

10.17.13 at 11:54 pm ET
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DETROIT — When the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli, they envisioned the addition of a middle-of-the-order power hitter who could offer a threat behind David Ortiz while also possessing the patience and plate discipline to either elevate opposing pitchers’ counts or work a walk. The team viewed him as someone who was capable of doing damage even against top pitchers, as evidenced by some of his past postseason heroics.

Now, the Sox are enjoying a first-hand view of Napoli’s playoff capabilities. Two days after he delivered the game-winning homer in Boston’s 1-0 Game 3 victory, the slugger once again made his mark on Game 3, going 3-for-4 with a massive solo homer to straightaway center field — well over the 420-foot sign and into the Comerica Park hedges that look not unlike his beard — a double and two runs scored.

His mammoth homer in the top of the second inning jumpstarted a three-run Red Sox uprising — just the second time in the ALCS that the Sox had rallied for multiple runs in a single frame — against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez en route to an eventual 4-3 victory. The fact that Napoli led his band of beardy brothers to a four-run production against Sanchez represented something of a breakthrough for an offense that had plated just three runs against Tigers starters in the first four games of the series.

Interestingly, while the Sox felt that their game plan to drive up the pitch count of Sanchez in Game 1 of the ALCS — where the right-hander issued six walks in his six no-hit innings — was a good building block for Game 5, the team didn’t negotiate a single walk from him in Game 5. Instead, they amassed nine hits in the starter’s six innings, bunching enough of them together to give the Sox a four-run cushion that permitted the team to withstand single runs from the Tigers in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

With the win, the Red Sox are one victory from securing a spot in the World Series as the ALCS shifts back to Fenway Park on Saturday for Game 6, with Clay Buchholz slated to take on Max Scherzer.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Koji Uehara came on to deliver a five-out save, his longest of the postseason. He punched out both Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante in the eighth, then blitzed through a perfect ninth for his fourth save of the postseason.

Jon Lester‘s stuff was hardly overpowering, as he elicited just six swings and misses among his 98 offerings, but the left-hander pitched around 10 baserunners to limit the Tigers to two runs (only one of which was scored while he was on the mound) in 5 1/3 innings. It was the shortest start of his postseason career, but still represented a sufficient effort to position the Sox to claim a win. Lester’s ERA in nine playoff starts is now 2.35.

– In a pivotal first-inning play, Miguel Cabrera got thrown out by a mile when he tried to score from second on a two-out single by Jhonny Peralta to left fielder Jonny Gomes. Cabrera, of course, is dealing with a left leg injury that has rendered him a complete tortoise on the bases. On the play, it appeared that third-base coach Tom Brookens initially waved Cabrera before switching to a hold sign; by that point, it was too late, Cabrera kept motoring to the plate and Gomes’ throw beat him by perhaps 15 feet. Instead of facing a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the first, the Sox thus escaped a first inning in which Lester issued a walk and permitted two singles without allowing a run. The next inning, the Sox exploded for three runs to completely shift the dynamic of the game.

– Though Junichi Tazawa permitted a run-scoring single to Brayan Pena when he entered the game in the sixth, he immediately clipped the rally with a double play grounder by Austin Jackson. He then stayed on for the seventh, permitting a pair of hits to open the inning by putting runners on the corners for Miguel Cabrera.

But, in a reprisal of the defining matchup of Game 3 (when Tazawa punched out Cabrera with runners on the corners and one out), the right-hander got Cabrera to bounce into a 4-3 double play on a fastball down and just off the outside corner. Though a run scored on the play, under the circumstances, the exchange of a run for two outs was one with which the Red Sox were comfortable.

Tazawa now has gotten three double play grounders in 4 2/3 postseason innings, matching his total from 68 1/3 innings in the regular season.

Xander Bogaerts, inserted into the lineup in place of Will Middlebrooks, had an instant impact on the Sox offense, ripping a one-out double to left in the second inning. He would eventually score the Sox’ third run of the frame. He later worked a walk, and he’s now reached in five of eight postseason plate appearances with two doubles.

David Ross had his second career multi-hit game in 10 postseason games, slamming a double to left as part of the three-run rally in the second and later adding a single.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Stephen Drew once again looked overmatched in the series. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, bringing his ALCS line to 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts and one walk, and his postseason line to 3-for-32 with 10 punchouts. He did, however, convert a key double play, when Jon Lester fielded a comebacker but made a poor throw that was wide of second. Drew managed to keep his foot on the bag and maintain enough balance to complete the twin-killing.

Shane Victorino seemed uncomfortable at the plate, first electing to bat left-handed against Sanchez (against whom he went 0-for-3) and then getting overmatched by a series of curveballs after switching around to hit right-handed against the right-handed Jose Veras.

– The run permitted by Tazawa broke a run of 17 1/3 scoreless innings by the Red Sox bullpen.

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