BOSTON (CBS) — In October, it’s the home runs and the strikeouts that fill up the highlight reels, but it’s often the defense and fundamentals that earn wins.
And after a misplay in the field by Dustin Pedroia proved costly in Game 4, you can bet he and his teammates were on their toes to be their best in Game 5. And they were.
The Red Sox scored four runs in the second and third innings to take the lead, but it was only because of Pedroia and the rest of the Red Sox in the field that the lead held up.
It started in the bottom of the first inning. Miguel Cabrera, hobbled by injury and a slow runner to begin with, decided to test Boston early by trying to score from second base on a two-out single in the bottom of the first. Left fielder Jonny Gomes came up firing and gunned home, his throw bouncing once on its way to catcher David Ross’ chest. Ross held his ground and secured the ball as Cabrera tried to jar it loose, and Jon Lester was out of the first inning without allowing a run.
The Red Sox capitalized on a defensive error by Cabrera in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead, and they tacked on one more in the fourth. That’s when the defense really got to work.
Lester got himself into a bit of a jam in the bottom of the fourth by walking Omar Infante with a runner on and one out. Lester then got what he wanted from Brayan Pena, a weak comebacker, but the pitcher nearly threw away the gift. Lester’s throw to second base sailed to the third base side of the bag, and had it gone into left field, a run would have scored and the Tigers would have had two on with one out. Instead, Stephen Drew stopped his own momentum just enough to reach back and catch the throw from Lester before tagging the bag and firing to first base, where Napoli scooped the throw out of the dirt for the inning-ending double play.
The next inning, Lester initially bobbled a bunt off the bat of Jose Iglesias but recovered to make a snazzy flip of the glove to retire Iglesias at first just before his foot hit the bag. An RBI single from Cabrera later in the inning only cost the Sox a run instead of two that inning because of the flip.
“With Iggy running, you know you don’t have much time. For whatever reason I decided not to open my glove up and let the ball come in and I made it a little bit more difficult. But it’s all reaction right there,” Lester said. “That was obviously a big out for us in that inning. That was all reaction, and I was lucky enough to get the guy out.”
The pressure was on the defense yet again in the bottom of the sixth inning, after an RBI single off Junichi Tazawa cut the Red Sox lead to 4-2. With runners on first and second and one out, Austin Jackson, a fast runner, grounded to third base. Rookie Xander Bogaerts calmly fielded the grounder, turned and fired to second base, where Pedroia made the turn with the 230-pound Brayan Pena bearing down on him. Pedroia leaped and fired to first, and again Napoli made the scoop for another inning-ending double play.
And in the bottom of the seventh, with the game’s most dangerous hitter at the plate in Cabrera and the game hanging in the balance, Tazawa got Cabrera to send a harmless ground ball back up the middle. Pedroia took care of it himself, fielding the weak chopper, stepping on second base and throwing to first for the double play. A run scored to cut the Boston lead to just one run, but all chances of a big Tigers rally were killed with the double play.
Had any one of those plays had even a moment’s hesitation for the Red Sox, it would be hard to say they would’ve been able to hang on to that 4-3 lead. But with a critical 3-2 series lead on the line, nobody showed any nerves and they all made the plays when needed.
Manager John Farrell credited Napoli, the former catcher who had played just 133 games at first base prior to this season, for his defense as much as his offense after the Game 5 win.
“He’s done an outstanding a job,” Farrell said. “There were a number of balls in the dirt tonight, and the double plays that he picked. I can’t say that he’s surpassed our expectations, but clearly he’s transitioned flawlessly over to first.”
For Pedroia, after a night which was likely spent reliving a bobble that could have changed Game 4, it had to feel nice to camp out under Iglesias’ pop fly to shallow right field and secure the final out of Game 5. Defense doesn’t slump, and Pedroia and the rest of the Red Sox made sure of that on Thursday night. They have a 3-2 series lead to show for it.
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