DETROIT -- If the American League Championship Series is, as the participants have frequently said, like a heavyweight bout, Mike Napoli landed the most impressive punch.
Napoli's jaw-dropping 460-foot homer sent the Boston Red Sox on their way to a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night.
As a result of Napoli's big night, and a lights-out performance by the Boston bullpen, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in the series, leaving them one victory away from their first trip to the World Series since 2007.
The series will conclude in Boston, with Clay Buchholz starting for the Red Sox against likely Cy Young winner Max Scherzer for Detroit in Game 6 on Saturday.
A night after the Red Sox had gotten knocked out of the game early by the Tigers' five-run second inning, Boston jumped on the Tigers for three runs in the second and one in the third, taking a 4-0 lead.
The first run was the most memorable, as Napoli belted a towering homer to straightaway center field, a remarkable shot considering the first-pitch temperature of 51 degrees.
"Napoli was huge," Boston catcher David Ross said. "That ball was crushed. It was really nice for him to put us on the board and get some runs for Jon Lester."
Lester, who didn't get a single run of support in his Game 1 loss, appreciated the blast.
"This is a big yard, and he made this yard look small with that swing," Lester said.
Napoli, who homered for the only run of Game 3, seemed to be the only one unimpressed with the distance of the homer.
"It can go in the first row for all I care," Napoli said. "It was a hitter's count. I was looking for a fastball and I got a pitch I could handle."
Napoli, who had three hits, doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the third, putting the Red Sox up by four runs, but they would not get the comfortable victory the Tigers had the night before.
Lester began to wobble after the third inning. He was charged with single runs in the fifth and sixth, and he was knocked out with the bullpen needing to get the final 11 outs.
Junichi Tazawa induced double plays in the sixth and seventh, including getting Miguel Cabrera to hit into a double play with runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh. Craig Breslow got the final out of the seventh and the first of the eighth, and then closer Koji Uehara recorded the final five outs.
No one appreciated the bullpen's effort more than Lester.
"It's not fun, sitting in the clubhouse and watching and having no control over anything," Lester said. "But I have the utmost faith in those guys. They've done it all. Taz picked me up. Bres did his normal thing, and Koji has been doing it all year."
The Red Sox now have an off day to think about being one victory away from the World Series. Or, more accurately, to not think about it.
"Our guys are well aware of where we are," Manager John Farrell said. "But at the same time, the beauty of them is not to get ahead of themselves. That will be the case once that first pitch is thrown on Saturday."
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