Koji Uehara Joins Jonathan Papelbon With Five-Out Save and Other Red Sox Notes From Game 5 of ALCS


Koji UeharaOne win.

That’s all that separates the Red Sox from the World Series. Amazing, isn’t it?

The Sox finished the 2012 season with a 69-93 record and in last place in the American League East, yet they’re on the verge of being crowned AL champions after taking down the reigning champs 4-3 in Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday. The series now shifts back to Boston, where the Red Sox will have two chances to close out the Tigers on their own turf.

It’s not going to be easy for the Red Sox, though. Not only has this series been a dogfight, but Detroit will send Max Scherzer to the hill in Game 6. Clay Buchholz will go for Boston. If the Tigers force a Game 7, Justin Verlander will take the mound against John Lackey.

‘‘Our guys are well aware of where we are,’’ Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ‘‘But at the same time, the beauty of them is to not get ahead of themselves, and that will be the case once that first pitch is thrown on Saturday.’’

Game 6 at Fenway Park will take place Saturday. The exact time won’t be known until after Game 6 of the NLCS on Friday. If the Cardinals close out that series Friday, the Red Sox and Tigers will play at 8:07 p.m. ET on Saturday. But if the Dodgers force a Game 7, the Red Sox and Tigers will battle at 4:37 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Before we size up the all-important Red Sox-Tigers Game 6 matchup, let’s take a look back at some Game 5 notes.

  • Mike Napoli kicked off the scoring in Game 5 with an absolute bomb to center field. It landed up in the hedges above the 420-foot marker.

“Not too many people hit balls like that,” Jonny Gomes said. “If you break it down to how many people in this world can do that, you’re not going to come up with too many. That’s pretty impressive.”

Peter Gammons, who has covered baseball for 42 years, tweeted out shortly after Thursday’s game that he had never seen a ball hit that hard. David Ortiz called the home run “disgusting.”

“I’ve never seen a ball hit that hard — ever,” Ortiz said. “That ball was crushed, especially since it was rainy and cold. It was unbelievable.” [tweet https://twitter.com/pgammo/status/391072525070766080 align=’center’]

  • So what did Napoli think of his mammoth blast?

“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Napoli said. “It can go in the first row for all I care.”

  • Napoli started the ALCS 0-for-6 with six strikeouts. He has since gone 6-for-10 with two homers, two doubles and four runs scored. The two home runs have been pretty important, too.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury swiped two more bases in Game 5. He has six stolen bases this postseason, which is the most ever by a Red Sox player in a single postseason.

No other team has more than three stolen bases this postseason.

  • Xander Bogaerts, at 21 years, 16 days, became the youngest player ever to start a playoff game for the Red Sox. The record was previously held by Babe Ruth, who was 21 years, 246 days.
  • Shane Victorino, who has pretty much batted exclusively right-handed since the beginning of August, batted left-handed against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.

Victorino later went back to batting right-handed when Sanchez exited the game.

  • The Tigers had an opportunity to jump ahead in the first inning, as Jon Lester gave up a walk and two hits. Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at the plate on Jhonny Peralta’s two-out single, though.

Tigers third base coach Tom Brookens threw up the stop sign, although relatively late, and Cabrera ran through it.

“With two outs sometimes, you’re thinking you’ve got to score, that’s the old baseball thing,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But in this particular case with Miggy, you’ve got to hold him up right away. [Brookens] was waving, and he probably stopped him a little late. With Miggy right now, you’ve got to stop him. And there was nothing Miggy could do. He saw him waving and Brookey held him up a little late.

“So it was just one of those unfortunate things. But in saying that, everybody just assumes the next guy is going to get a hit. That doesn’t always hold true.”

  • Jose Iglesias really flashed some leather in Game 5.

Iglesias’ best work came in the third inning, when he ranged what seemed like four miles to track down Ortiz’s popup into shallow center field. Iglesias had been pulled over to the right side of second base because of the shift but managed to race over to make a sensational grab.

Iglesias finished 1-for-3 at the plate and made the last out of the game.

  • David Ross collided with Alex Avila in the second inning and then fouled a pitch off Avila’s mask in the fourth inning. Avila exited the game with a left knee patellae tendon strain.

“David really did the only thing he could do,” Leyland said of the second-inning collision. “I have absolutely no problem with that. It’s a tough play for a catcher.”

  • Brayan Pena took over for Avila and grounded into a big double play in the fourth inning.
  • Lester made a pretty nifty — perhaps lucky — play in the fifth inning.

Iglesias dropped down a bunt with a runner on first and no outs. Lester initially failed to glove it but stuck with it while chasing it down near the first base line. Lester then scooped the ball to first base with his glove in one motion for the out.

  • Lester was lifted with two on and one out in the sixth inning. Junichi Tazawa took over in what was a curious move by Farrell.

Pena was the batter when Farrell made the change, and Pena is a significantly better hitter against right-handers this season. It was surprising to see Lester not stay in for the at-bat.

Pena hit .325 (40-for-123) with four home runs and 16 RBIs versus right-handers during the regular season. He hit .264 (28-for-106) with no home runs and six RBIs against left-handers.

  • The decision to turn to Tazawa in the sixth inning was also surprising because the right-hander hasn’t had much success going multiple innings this year.

“[Tazawa] is probably better suited for one inning,” Farrell said back on Sept. 28.

  • Tazawa gave up an RBI single to Pena in the sixth inning, although the run was charged to Lester. He got out of the inning by getting Austin Jackson to ground into a double play.
  • Iglesias and Torii Hunter led off the seventh inning with back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third for Miguel Cabrera. Tazawa induced another double play to help minimize the damage.

A run scored on the play, ending a streak of 17 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings for the Red Sox’ bullpen.

  • Despite its scoreless streak ending, Boston’s bullpen still stood tall in Game 5. Craig Breslow retired the only two hitters he faced — Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez — and Koji Uehara recorded a perfect five-out save.
  • Uehara’s five-out save was the first for the Red Sox in the playoffs since Jonathan Papelbon in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.

Remember that image? The Red Sox inched one step closer toward replicating it Thursday.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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