The Boston bats woke up in a big way Thursday night, as the Red Sox downed the Detroit Tigers, 4-3, to win Game 5 of the ALCS and take a 3-2 series lead, via MLB.
Take away that David Ortiz grand slam, and the Red Sox offense had been largely silent coming into Thursday. As a result, there was some talk before the game about whether John Farrell would switch around his lineup. Jim Leyland had done so to some success in Game 4, so the question was whether Farrell would follow suit.
He didn't, with the biggest change being Xander Bogaerts' inclusion, making the third baseman the youngest Red Sox starter ever, as reported by MLB. Not sure what ever happened to the guy he surpassed.
Farrell's faith in his lineup was rewarded in a big way.
Detroit nearly drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder singled back to back to give the Tigers runners on first and second with two outs. The next batter, Jhonny Peralta, promptly singled to left field.
For whatever reason, Cabrera was waved home by third-base coach Tom Brookens. Jonny Gomes' throw was on the money and Cabrera was out by about 10 feet. Watching him run into home was like watching a freight train apply the brakes because it sees a car on the tracks.
MLB.com's Andrew Simon asked one of the more intriguing questions of the night.
If Billy Hamilton had fielded that in LF, could he have beaten Cabrera home without throwing it?— Andrew Simon (@HitTheCutoff) October 18, 2013
The Red Sox wasted little time taking advantage of the gift given to them by Cabrera's out at home.
Mike Napoli hit a towering home run to dead center to lead off the top of the second inning. Just like that, it was 1-0. The blast was estimated at 460 feet, via ESPN Stats and Info.
Mike Napoli HR: calculated by our http://t.co/3YN7npNj9L team at 460 feet His MLB-best 4th HR of 460 or longer this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 18, 2013
Boston was just getting started, too.
Gomes reached base safely after an error at third by Cabrera. After a Stephen Drew strikeout, Bogaerts doubled to put men on second and third with one out. David Ross delivered a double that scored Gomes and gave his team a 2-0 lead. Bogaerts was able to get home after an infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury, scoring the third run of the game for the Sox.
Although that was the end of the offense for Boston, Detroit kept taking the hits, as David Ross collided with Alex Avila at home plate. Ross was out, but Avila looked the worse for wear. He would later leave the game with a "left knee patellar tendon strain," via the Tigers Twitter account.
Alex Avila left tonight's game with a left knee patellar tendon strain. #Tigers he is day-to-day.— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) October 18, 2013
Napoli again sparked the offense when he hit a ground-rule double in the top of the third. He reached third base on a groundout by Gomes and eventually scored on a wild pitch by Anibal Sanchez, giving Boston a 4-0 lead.
That fourth run spelled doom for the Tigers, as they had never won a game in which Sanchez surrendered four or more runs, via ESPN Stats and Info.
The Tigers are 0-10 (including a loss this postseason) in games in which Anibal Sanchez allows at least 4 runs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 18, 2013
The Tigers didn't quit, though. They got their first run of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning after Cabrera's single to center field scored Austin Jackson from second.
In the bottom of the sixth, Detroit tried to mount another rally. Victor Martinez walked to lead off the inning. After Peralta walked, Omar Infante singled to put runners on first and second with one out.
That was the end of the night for Jon Lester, who was replaced by Junichi Tazawa. Brayan Pena, who replaced Avila, singled and scored Martinez to make it 4-2 in favor of the Red Sox. Jackson then grounded to third for the 5-4-3 double play that ended the inning. Dustin Pedroia did a great job of releasing the ball quickly at second and avoiding the slide of Pena.
An inning later, Detroit was poised for another rally. It got runners on first and third with nobody out. Then Cabrera grounded into a double play. Jose Iglesias was able to score, but that effectively ended any chance for the Tigers to add any more runs. They had to settle for a 4-3 deficit.
Koji Uehara came on with an out in the bottom of the eighth for the seldom-seen five-out save. He set down the five batters in order to shut the door.
After the game, Boston Globe reporter Pete Abraham got Jonny Gomes' thoughts on his team:
Jonny Gomes: "We don't want to be one of those teams that says they had a good season and overachieved. We want to win it." #redsox— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 18, 2013
Key Player Grades
Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers: C-
At least Prince Fielder has been consistent. He has been awful throughout the playoffs. Fielder is expected to provide some power behind Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup. However, he's yet to record a home run, or even an RBI, the entire postseason.
ESPN's Buster Olney has a possible explanation for why Fielder's struggling so badly.
Prince Fielder has made outs on the first pitch on five of his last seven plate appearances.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 18, 2013
He needs to be more patient at the plate and wait for his pitches. If Fielder has another bad game, Detroit will likely be going home.
Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers: C+
Anibal Sanchez settled down after that second inning. He very easily could have unraveled, and the Tigers would've had no chance.
When you look at his line, it's not terrible (6.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K). However, with the way that runs have come at a premium in this series, four runs can feel like seven or eight. Sanchez didn't have his best stuff on Thursday night.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox: B+
Jon Lester pitched a very good game. It wasn't one of the best performances you'll ever see, but he got the job done. Plus, with that early four-run cushion, Lester could afford to ease up a bit. He didn't have to be perfect.
The starter was finished after 5.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out three.
Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox: A
Mike Napoli finished a triple short of the cycle. Considering he's only hit eight triples in his eight-year career, that always seemed like a long shot.
Offensively, Napoli was great on Thursday. His home run set the tone for that second inning, and then he scored Boston's fourth run an inning later. Defensively, he also made a great scoop on the double play in the bottom of the sixth that ended the inning with the score just 4-2.
The series moves to Boston for the final two games. Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19 at 4:30 p.m. ET. Max Scherzer for the Tigers and Clay Buchholz for the Red Sox are the starters slated to take the mound.