When Jon Lester left the mound after the seventh inning, the applause on his way to the dugout drowned out almost every other sound in the ballpark.
It was weirdly similar to the one John Lackey got Monday night, but the circumstances were clearly different.
After striking out nine with no walks and refusing to blink at any point in his seven-inning staredown with Tigers win-hoarder Max Scherzer, Lester was leaving with a lead, albeit slim.
It was left to the bullpen to protect the one-run lead and John Farrell called on a trio of arms in the eighth to navigate the most treacherous stretch of the Tigers lineup.
Moving carefully through a minefield of Tigers hitters, Farrell used Brandon Workman, Craig Breslow, and Junichi Tazawa for matchups in the eighth that built the bridge for Koji Uehara to close the door in the Red Sox’ 2-1 win.
“We knew we were going to match up all the way through the eighth,” Farrell said.
Even though he only had 34 major league innings under his belt, Workman got the call to pitch to the most dangerous hitter in the baseball, Miguel Cabrera, in a game that could shift with one swing.
Workman was facing Cabrera sight unseen, but the way Farrell figured it, the knife cut both ways.
Cabrera had never seen Workman, either.
“He’s gained a lot of confidence by all of us, Workman has, and [we] trust in him,” Farrell said. “I thought it was a pretty straightforward move.”
Cabrera stood in the batter’s box like baseball’s Bigfoot, a living, breathing, Triple Crown winner. Workman did his best to not let Cabrera’s track record overwhelm him.
“I was just going in trying to execute my pitches,” Workman said. “That’s not a guy you want to make mistakes to. I was just trying to execute the best I could.”
Workman had a veteran catcher behind the plate in David Ross talking him through it.
“The one thing you have to do is you have to have the pitchers pitch their game,” Ross said. “I can’t all of a sudden ask a fastball pitcher to go up there and throw nothing but sliders. You have to pitch your game and you have to execute your pitches and that’s all I want the pitchers to focus on when I’m catching.”
Ross told Workman to throw fastballs, so he did.
Workman nibbled away off the plate with the first two pitches, possibly hoping Cabrera would chase them, before coming inside with one. Cabrera got a hold of it, but only enough to send it drifting into right, where Daniel Nava was able to get under it for the first out.
That took care of the most dangerous bat in the Tigers lineup, but made way for the runner-up, Prince Fielder.
The task of getting him out fell on lefthander Craig Breslow. He fed Fielder the same platter of fastballs that Workman served to Cabrera. All Fielder could do was send a bouncer to second for Dustin Pedroia to handle with ease.
Lefthanders had fared better than righthanders against Breslow this season, with a .282 average, but Fielder only had seen Breslow three times in his career.
“John does a great job doing the matchups,” Ross said. “The good thing about John is, being a pitching coach, he knows hitter’s swings.”
Things got hairy the next at-bat, when Breslow missed the zone with his first three pitches to Victor Martinez.
Sitting on fastball, Martinez jumped on the 3-and-0 pitch and shot it through the left side for a single.
From there, it fell on Tazawa to get the final out with the tying run on. His results have been a mixed bag lately. He blew two saves in August, but came up with a pair of holds in his past two appearances.
“I knew that going in I had some good outings and bad outings, but I think that was what was important, to be prepared for any kind of situation,” Tazawa said through an interpreter.
Just as he did with Workman, Ross gave Tazawa his survival guide for the situation.
“Going in, I was told that for [Omar] Infante, the curveball is a good pitch to use and Rossy asked for the curveball,” Tazawa said. “So I executed well, and I think that was the key.”
He immediately got Infante off balance with a first-pitch curveball away. He went even farther out of the zone with a fastball, but Infante didn’t take the bait.
He put another curve on the fringe of the zone that Infante fouled off.
Then, he went high out of the zone with a fastball that Infante couldn’t help but chase for strike three.
“I clearly understood what the situation was,” Tazawa said. “I knew that we got two runs against a very good pitcher. So my thinking was just to get out of that inning with the lead and let Koji do the rest of the work.”
For a pitcher who had retired 18 straight going into Tuesday night, Uehara made that work seem light.
After getting Andy Dirks to pop to second, Uehara dropped 82-mile-per-hour splitters on Brayan Pena and Jose Iglesias for a pair of strikeouts to slam the door shut.
It was his 12th consecutive save and 17th this season.
“I think that there is a little bit of a perception that a closer needs to have a blazing fastball,” Uehara said through an interpreter.
“But I think that if I can turn around that kind of image, even little by little, that’ll be great for me.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.