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With key win in Game 5, Red Sox head home leading the ALCS

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

DETROIT -- From the start, the Red Sox and Tigers knew what was at stake in Game 5.

The Red Sox knew that Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were ahead, set up for Games 6 and 7. The Tigers knew that Fenway Park was ahead, and Clay Buchholz and John Lackey, too.

The Red Sox survived Scherzer Sunday and beat Verlander Tuesday, but did they really want to go into the weekend knowing they'd need to win both games started by the Tiger aces -- again? The Tigers won one game last weekend at Fenway (and should have won both), but did they really want to go back there knowing they'd need two wins to make it back to the World Series?

Game 5 wasn't going to decide the American League Championship Series, but Game 5 was going to make the weekend task much more manageable for the team that won.

Now it's the Red Sox with the more manageable task. They're the ones who head to the weekend with the ALCS lead, after a wild 4-3 victory against the Tigers on Thursday night.

"Tonight was huge," Red Sox starter Jon Lester said. "For obvious reasons."

So much happened in this game. So much has happened in this series.

But now it boils down to this: The Red Sox, who had the best home record in the American League, have two home games left to get the one victory they need to get to the World Series. The Tigers, who don't mind relying on Scherzer and Verlander, now need to win behind both of them, or they'll see another season end shy of a title.

"We'll take it," Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes said. "Better than two chances to win one game here [in Detroit]."

So yes, Game 5 was somewhat important.

It was also close, long and filled with big moments, beginning in the first inning when Miguel Cabrera was easily thrown out at the plate to end a promising threat against Jon Lester. Not long after that, Mike Napoli sent an Anibal Sanchez pitch soaring far over the center-field fence to begin a three-run second inning.

"I think it's still going," Dustin Pedroia said later. "Still on the way up. [Center fielder Austin Jackson] didn't even go back after it. I was confused."

There were two home-plate collisions, the second between two catchers (David Ross and Alex Avila) who both missed time with concussions this season. Avila later left the game with a strained knee ligament suffered in the collision (but said he's hopeful of playing Saturday). There were Tiger baserunners all night, but also three inning-ending double plays.

There were boos for Prince Fielder, and cheers after a spectacular defensive play by Jose Iglesias.

There was even a five-out save from Koji Uehara, the first by any closer in this postseason and the first by a Red Sox closer in the postseason since the clinching game of the 2007 World Series.

Way back when September began, and when it first began to seem obvious that the Red Sox would be in the playoffs, Gomes said he didn't mind who the Red Sox faced once they got there.

"Irrelevant," Gomes said then. "We just want the home-field advantage. We've played good at home. We've played good against everyone at home."

They have played well at home. But they didn't have a bad three days at Comerica Park, either, thanks in part to Napoli.

His home run off Verlander provided the only run in Tuesday's Game 3. Besides the home run for the first run in Game 5, he had a double and scored the fourth Red Sox run, too.

None of that should have been a surprise to the Tigers. Napoli had a big three days at Comerica in the 2011 ALCS with the Rangers, helping cost the Tigers a chance at a World Series.

In his past five playoff games in Detroit, Napoli has gone 10 for 21 with two home runs and two game-winning hits.

Maybe he wouldn't mind staying here. The rest of the Red Sox are no doubt happy to be going home to Fenway, happy to go home with a lead in this series.

They played well enough all year and well enough in September to get home-field advantage, and they played well enough this week that they need only one victory in two possible home games to get to the World Series.

Winning Game 5 didn't win them the ALCS. But it sure didn't hurt.

 
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