DETROIT — The Boston Red Sox have the Detroit Tigers in a hole.
However, Detroit is pinning its hopes on what lies at the bottom of the hole: Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Mike Napoli ignited a three-run second inning with a leadoff home run, and Koji Uehara logged a five-out save Thursday night, leading the Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Tigers that gives Boston a 3-2 lead in the American League Championship Series.
Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday at Fenway Park with 21-game winner Scherzer starting for Detroit against Clay Buchholz. Verlander would work Game 7 against John Lackey if the Tigers can square the series.
“Our guys are very well aware of where we are,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “But at the same time, the beauty of them is to not get ahead of themselves.”
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, “It’s like (Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don) Mattingly said the other day, ‘We gotta win one game, then take from there.’ We gotta win one game.”
Boston jumped out to a 4-0 lead after three innings, but Detroit scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to pull within a run.
Uehara was summoned in the eighth, and he retired all five batters he faced for his fourth postseason save. It was his second five-out save of the year but his longest of the postseason.
“He continues to be efficient,” Farrell said. “In games here against the Tigers, it’s been with his back against the wall, and he’s been tremendous.”
Boston left-hander Jon Lester (1-1) allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings. He gave up seven hits and three walks while fanning three. Junichi Tazawa went 1 1/3 innings, and Craig Breslow recorded two outs to set up Uehara.
Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (1-1) gave up four runs, three earned, on nine hits in six innings. He wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in Game 1, when he pitched six no-hit innings in a 1-0 win.
“Sanchez had a couple more pitches up (in the strike zone),” Napoli said of the game-to-game difference in the Tigers’ starter. “It seemed like he was living on the corners more in the first game.
“I was in a hitter’s count (3-2), looking for a fastball. I got a pitch I could handle.”
The ball landed next to the camera well, one level beyond the wall that is 420 feet from home plate.
Napoli finished with three hits, and Dustin Pedroia and David Ross had two apiece for Boston.
Detroit finally scored in the fifth off Lester when Austin Jackson singled, moved up on a sacrifice and came home on a two-out single by Miguel Cabrera. It was the sixth consecutive time Jackson reached base since being dropped to eighth in the order. He went 2-for-4 Thursday.
Napoli dashed home from third with the Red Sox’s fourth run with two outs in the third when Sanchez spiked a pitch 15 feet in front of home plate for a wild pitch. Napoli doubled with one out and advanced to third on Jonny Gomes’ groundout back to Sanchez.
“He has the ability to carry us,” Farrell said of Napoli. “To me, equal to the home run was his baserunning. He gets the double, advances on the tapper back to the mound and his instincts on the wild pitch, it ended up being the difference.”
Detroit starters were not scored upon in the first five innings of eight consecutive ALCS starts before Boston snapped the streak Thursday.
After the home run by Napoli, whose homer off Verlander in Game 3 produced the lone run of the game, Gomes reached on an error by third baseman Cabrera and rookie Xander Bogaerts doubled to deep left. Ross hit double off the left field fence that only scored one run due to a baserunning mistake by Bogaerts. Jacoby Ellsbury then smoked an RBI single off Sanchez’s glove for a 3-0 lead.
Cabrera grounded into a double play with runners on first and third and no outs in the seventh to score a run and cut Detroit’s deficit to 4-3. Singles by Jose Iglesias and Torii Hunter preceded the double play.
Victor Martinez walked to start the sixth and scored on singles by Omar Infante off Lester and Brayan Pena off Tazawa, cutting Boston’s lead to 4-2.
Detroit may have lost catcher Alex Avila for Saturday due to a left knee patellar tendon strain. Avila was involved in a collision at the plate in the second inning and was removed from the game after the top of the fourth.
“The left knee was pretty rough, pretty bad,” Leyland said. “We felt like the best thing to do was get him out of there and hope he’d be ready to play two days from now. I’m not really sure at this point.”
NOTES: Boston RF Shane Victorino, just 2-for-16 in the first four games of the season, hit left-handed for the first time since July in the first inning. He went back to hitting right-handed after three at-bats against Sanchez, and he finished the night 0-for-5. … Leyland generally stuck with his re-ordered lineup, but with Boston starting a left-hander, he switched Avila to seventh and 2B Omar Infante to sixth. … Farrell sat slumping 3B Will Middlebrooks, inserting Bogaerts in his place. Bogaerts, 21, is the youngest Red Sox to get a postseason hit and to start a postseason game. He went 1-for-3 with a walk. … The ALCS was tied 2-2 for the fifth time since the best-of-seven format was instituted in 1985. In each of the previous four, the Game 5 winner went on to take the series.