DETROIT -- An unspoken subtext of Mariano Rivera's farewell tour was wondering when we would see his likes again, especially in the postseason, when the Yankees' closer was the true Mr. October.
Who could have imagined that a successor, at least for one dazzling autumn, would surface so soon, in the form of a 38-year-old Japanese import who, like Rivera, relies primarily on one maddeningly unhittable pitch.
Koji Uehara retired all five Detroit batters he faced to close out the Tigers 4-3 and push the Red Sox to within a game of advancing to the World Series for the third time in the last 10 years.
Uehara struck out the last two batters of the eighth, then set down the Tigers in order, former Sox prospect Jose Iglesias popping out to second baseman Dustin Pedroia at the end of a nine-pitch battle for the final out, as the Red Sox took a 3 games to 2 lead in the American League Championship Series.
The Sox, who built a 4-0 lead after three innings behind Mike Napoli's 460-foot home run, then held on for the win, can clinch a berth in the World Series as soon as Saturday night, when the Series switches to Fenway Park for Game 6.
The Tigers may be without catcher Alex Avila, who left the game with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee.
Stop, in the name of ... : Miggy Cabrera stole second base on one leg in Game 4 without drawing a throw, but it was no contest when Cabrera tried to score from second Thursday night on Jhonny Peralta's two-out single to left in the first. Tigers third-base coach Tom Brookens had the windmill going initially, then threw up a stop sign, but too late to dissuade Cabrera from completing his suicidal trip to the plate, where Jonny Gomes' throw beat him easily.
"With Miggy, you've got to stop him right away," manager Jim Leyland said. "[Brookens] made a mistake."
Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship: Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts, who turned 21 on Oct. 1, became the youngest player ever to start a postseason game, trumping Babe Ruth, who was a couple hundred days older when he started in the 1916 World Series. Pretty tough to top Ruth's debut: He pitched 14 innings and drove in a run in Boston's 2-1, 14-inning win over Brooklyn in Game 2 at Braves Field (not a typo).
But Bogaerts held his own. He doubled in a run in his first at-bat, and started a 5-4-3 double play that extracted Junichi Tazawa from a sixth-inning jam. Second baseman Pedroia ignored the on-charging Brayan Pena to make a great turn at the bag.
Knocking heads: Catchers David Ross of the Red Sox and Avila of the Tigers, both sidelined this season with concussions, had a bone-jarring collision at the plate in the second inning, when Ross went in shoulder-first trying to score on a ground ball to second baseman Omar Infante. Avila held onto the ball for the out but came up limping. He was still in the game in the fourth inning, when Ross fouled a ball off his catcher's mask, but was lifted for pinch-hitter Pena in the fourth.
The Tigers announced that Avila left the game with a strained left patellar tendon -- Ross had gone hard into Avila's knee -- and was listed as day to day.
[Mountain]-man sized: Napoli's home run into the center field shrubbery in the second inning measured at 460 feet, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The stats gurus report that it was Napoli's fourth home run of at least 460 feet this season, most in the majors.
Second time's the charm: The Red Sox were held hitless for six innings in Game 1 by Anibal Sanchez, who walked six and struck out a dozen and was lifted after 116 pitches.
Thursday night, the Sox collected their first hit when Pedroia lined a single to left with two out in the first. Napoli homered to lead off the second for their first run, and they scored twice more on three hits, aided by Cabrera's error on Gomes' routine grounder to third. Sanchez went six innings again, and threw fewer pitches (108), walking none while striking out five, but the Sox had nine hits before he left, and added a run in the fourth when Napoli doubled, took third on an infield out, and scored on a wild pitch.
Bay watch: Napoli became the first Sox player with a home run, double and single in a postseason game since Jason Bay in 2008.
Split personality: Shane Victorino, evidently dismayed by his 2-for-6 showing in the ALCS, went back to batting left-handed against Tigers starter Sanchez, with no better results. Sanchez shattered his bat on an infield tapper in the first, induced him to ground to Infante on the play in which Ross was nailed at the plate, and got him for a third time on a ground ball to first. Victorino switched back to the right side against Tigers right-handed reliever Jose Veras in the seventh, and struck out. He finished the night batting right handed and striking out against Al Alburquerque in the ninth.
Less-than-lustrous Lester: Sox starter Jon Lester was not as sharp as he was in Game 1. Lifted by John Farrell after a leadoff walk and a bloop single by Omar Infante put two on with one out in the sixth, Lester was charged with a second run when Pena, who had replaced Avila, greeted reliever Tazawa with an RBI single to left-center. Lester gave up seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings, and was spared a potentially damaging error in the fourth, when shortstop Stephen Drew caught Lester's sailing throw to second and completed a 1-6-3 double play.