Bullpen saved the day when Jon Lester tired

Closer Koji Uehara, who has taken the Red Sox on his shoulders all season, got payback from David Ortiz after shutting down the Tigers.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Closer Koji Uehara, who has taken the Red Sox on his shoulders all season, got payback from David Ortiz after shutting down the Tigers.

DETROIT — Bye, bye, Motor City. Later, Kid Rock.

The beard-happy, whisker-grabbing Red Sox soared out of town early Friday after they went back on top in the American League Championship Series thanks in large measure to a sensational son of Osaka, Koji Uehara, and his countryman from Yokohama, Junichi Tazawa.

Oh, and a guy who learned everything he knows about pitching and molecular physics in Connecticut: Craig Breslow.


Together, the trio helped nail down a 4-3 victory in Game 5 for a 3-2 edge in the ALCS, putting the Sox in position to secure an invitation Saturday to their third World Series of the young century.

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The Sox pen seized the challenge of denying the Tigers for three innings after Boston’s starter, Jon Lester, showed early signs of faltering in the sixth inning amid the damp Detroit chill.

The chain of pain for the Tigers passed from Lester to Tazawa to Breslow to Uehara.

“It’s the difference between winning and losing,’’ Sox catcher David Ross said after calling pitches for the foursome. “When your starter has to grind and then you use your main guys in the bullpen, it’s nice to know you have an ace in the hole back there’’ in Uehara.

Boston’s closer by default due to injuries, Uehara has carried his historic run from the regular season into the posteason. He saved the night by throwing 27 pitches to retire the last five Tigers in order.


“Once again, those three guys have pitched outstanding for us in the postseason,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “From Taz turning it over to Bres, and then a five-out save by Koji, he continues to be so efficient. And in games here against the Tigers, it’s been with his back to the wall, and he’s been outstanding.’’

Tazawa entered the fray when Farrell chose not to risk a calamity when Lester surrendered a leadoff walk to Victor Martinez — “They’ll kill you,’’ Ross said — and a one-out single to Omar Infante in the sixth with the Sox leading, 4-1.

Detroit’s Brayan Pena greeted Tazawa with a single, scoring Martinez to make it 4-2 and sending Infante to second. With Boston’s lead hanging in the balance, Tazawa then snuffed the threat by inducing Austin Jackson to bounce a forkball into an inning-ending double play.

Tazawa rose up again in the seventh after Jose Iglesias and Torii Hunter opened the inning with consecutive singles, putting runners at second and third. Up came Detroit’s biggest gun, Miguel Cabrera, with a chance to put the Tigers in front with his mighty home run swing.

But Tazawa dodged serious damage by getting Cabrera to ground a fastball into a double play that allowed Iglesias to score and make it 4-3.


“I knew an outside fastball was a good pitch to throw him last time out,’’ Tazawa said of his showdown with Cabrera. “I didn’t know if that would be the case this time, but he did swing at it and we got the big double play.’’

Farrell again took no chances, calling in the lefthanded Breslow to face Detroit’s lefty slugger Prince Fielder. And after Breslow easily retired Fielder on a groundout to end the seventh and opened the eighth by getting Martinez on a grounder to Mike Napoli at first, Farrell came calling again, this time for Uehara.

“I know [Uehara] can get more than three outs, but it’s still a big burden for him,’’ Tazawa said. “I was trying to make the burden a little bit lighter. I’ll try better next time.’’

Uehara’s five-out save was the first by a Sox pitcher with at least one-plus innings pitched in the postseason since Jonathan Papelbon in Game 4 of the World Series in 2007. Uehara is the third reliever to post a save of five outs or more, joining Papelbon and Dick Drago, who did it in Game 3 of the ALCS in 1975.

“He was a player I looked up to when I was little,’’ the 27-year-old Tazawa said of Uehara, who is 38.

Uehara credited the Sox medical staff with keeping him strong. He said with a smile that he feels like he is in his 20s.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.