And all that’s in Boston’s way is 21-game winner Max Scherzer, with Justin Verlander on deck for a seventh game – if it gets that far.
”We all know what we are up against,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said on Friday after an offday workout to prepare for Game 6 of the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers. ”I expect it’s going to be another one of those tough games.”
A victory in Game 6 on Saturday would eliminate the defending AL champions and send the Red Sox to their third World Series since 2004. Scherzer will face Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a repeat of the Game 2 matchup that the Red Sox won 6-5.
Scherzer took a no-hitter and a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning, but the Red Sox rallied against the Tigers bullpen and tied it on David Ortiz’s eighth-inning grand slam. Now at least the Boston batters can say they’ve seen the likely AL Cy Young winner recently.
But Scherzer has a little more experience against them, too.
”I don’t see him making too many adjustments,” Saltalamacchia said. ”There’s not many adjustments he needs to make.”
The Red Sox wrapped up a 4-3 victory over Detroit in Game 5 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. They arrived home early on Friday morning and worked out at Fenway Park in the afternoon.
The Tigers did not work out, instead opting to rest hobbled starters like Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila, who joined the injured after a home-plate collision with Boston’s David Ross in the second inning of Game 5.
”We have to go to Fenway and we have to fight hard enough to win a game,” said Cabrera, who has been slowed by a variety of injuries since late in the regular season. ”If we do that, we have to keep fighting and get the next one. We’ve done this before, and we’ve got great pitchers.”
Detroit’s starting rotation was its biggest advantage heading into the series, and it has lived up to the hype. Anibal Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander all took no-hitters into the fifth inning in the first three games, though the Tigers won only one of them.
In all, Detroit’s starters had allowed only three runs in 27 innings through the first four games before Mike Napoli’s homer keyed a three-run second inning the second time around against Sanchez.
”They were pitching pretty well the first could of games. They shut us down,” Napoli said. ”It’s been a great series all-around. But it’s not over yet. We’ve got to take care of business. We’ve got Buchholz going, and we’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”
The Red Sox seem to be getting stronger as the series goes on, but the Tigers are more beaten up with each game.
Avila, who has a history of concussions, was involved in a collision with Ross at the plate that left the Tigers catcher with a sprained left knee. He also took a foul ball – also by Ross – off his mask before leaving the game in the fourth inning.
Leyland said he would wait to see how Avila feels on Saturday before making a decision.
”It will be a big factor, whether he plays or not, it will obviously affect us some,” Leyland said. ”I don’t think there will be anything tricky. It will pretty much be using what we’ve used the last couple of days, depending on Alex’s health.”
Leyland did confirm that Jose Iglesias will play shortstop on Saturday. The 23-year-old Cuban started Game 1 before coming in as a substitute in the next two games; he was back in the lineup for Games 4 and 5.
The Red Sox are also turning to a young infielder to boost their offense.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Xander Bogaerts, a top prospect who wasn’t called up until August, will start at 3B in place of Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks started Boston’s first eight playoff games but he is batting .174 with nine strikeouts in the postseason, giving way to the rookie in Game 5
”It’s definitely special,” Bogaerts said. ”I want the manager to have confidence in me, especially in the playoffs. Every game is important; every at-bat. It’s definitely huge.”