DETROIT — Red Sox starter Jon Lester had a sour look on his face when manager John Farrell came to the mound in the sixth inning Thursday night to take him out of the game.
Lester certainly didn’t want to come out of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that early, not with a three-run lead and pitches left in his tank.
But Farrell had his primary relievers rested and ready to lean on. They closed the door on the Detroit Tigers as the Red Sox moved to within a game of the World Series with a 4-3 victory.
Koji Uehara retired all five batters he faced for his fourth save of the postseason. He, Craig Breslow, and Junichi Tazawa set down the final eight Tigers in a row.
The Red Sox lead the series, 3-2, with Game 6 at Fenway Park on Saturday. Clay Buchholz will face Max Scherzer.
“We’re happy to be going back to Boston,” catcher David Ross said. “We smell victory.”
Mike Napoli was 3 for 4 with a long home run and a double for the Sox. He scored two runs. Rookie Xander Bogaerts, making his first postseason start, was 1 for 3 with a walk and a run.
If the Red Sox pop champagne this weekend, credit the bullpen. Breslow, Tazawa, and Uehara have pitched 18⅔ innings in the postseason and allowed two runs. In the ALCS, the Red Sox bullpen as a unit has given up one run over 17 innings.
Four of the five games in the series have been decided by one run, the Sox winning three of those games.
“You know when those guys are coming in they have quality stuff and they execute and have a game plan,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “There’s a reason why they’re here.”
Uehara slumped in a clubhouse chair after the game, having completed his usual postgame workout. At 38, he has become an indispensible member of a team that is shocking baseball after finishing in last place a season ago.
It was in Detroit in late June when the Red Sox decided to make Uehara the closer after Andrew Bailey blew a save. He has been almost flawless since, particularly in the playoffs.
“I’m tired,” Uehara said in English. “Need to sleep.”
The Red Sox offense, so inefficient in the series, clicked against Anibal Sanchez, who no-hit them for six innings in Game 1.
The Sox took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. It started with Napoli driving a 3-and-1 fastball deep over the fence in center field and into the shrubbery that serves as a backdrop at Comerica Park.
The shot was estimated at 460 feet, impressive on any day but particularly so on a damp night when it was 51 degrees. It was Napoli’s second home run of the series.
“It can go in the front row for all I care,” Napoli said. “But I was in a hitter’s count; I was looking for a fastball and I got a pitch I could handle.”
Said Pedroia: “That thing is still going.”
Jonny Gomes followed with a ground ball to third base that immobile Miguel Cabrera booted for an error. Bogaerts doubled to left field, moving Gomes to third base.
Ross followed with a double to the gap in left field, just missing a home run. Gomes scored but Bogaerts misread the ball and did not.
Bogaerts did score when Jacoby Ellsbury singled.
“I controlled my emotions pretty good,” Bogaerts said. “I got a good double to keep the inning going after Nap’s home run. A good game overall.”
Ross tried to score on a contact play when Shane Victorino grounded to second. Ross crashed into catcher Alex Avila but was tagged out.
Avila came up limping and left the game in the fourth inning with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee and is day to day. He had caught every inning of the postseason before coming out.
Napoli doubled to left field in the third inning. He advanced on a ground out and scored when Sanchez threw a wild pitch.
Lester allowed only two runs over 5⅓ innings but had put 10 runners on base and thrown 98 pitches when Farrell came to the mound.
“Not hard at all,” Farrell said. “We’ve got full confidence not only in Jon but the guys who have come out of the bullpen. Our bullpen has been outstanding in this postseason.”
Lester walked Victor Martinez to start the sixth inning. When Omar Infante singled, Farrell came out of the dugout.
“That’s John’s decision,” Lester said. “I may not like it but that’s his job and I respect every decision that he makes. That was his choice and I’m obviously not happy with it.”
Tazawa allowed an RBI single by Brayan Pena, who had replaced Avila. But Jackson grounded into a double play started by Bogaerts.
Tazawa stayed in for the seventh and allowed a run. Iglesias singled and took third when Torii Hunter singled. A run scored when Cabrera grounded into a double play. But the damage was minimized.
“We were fortunate we got a couple of ground-ball double plays,” Farrell said. “Taz is a fly-ball pitcher and we somehow get two key double plays to minimize the number of pitches he threw.”
From there, Breslow and Uehara were perfect.
In June, when last the Red Sox were at Comerica Park, Uehara did not envision what would follow.
“No. I wasn’t able to think that far ahead,” he said. “This is exciting.”