After the Red Sox untied their American League Championship Series against the Tigers with a heart-pounding 4-3 victory in Game 5 on Thursday in Detroit, they head home to Boston with a 3-2 series lead -- matching the Cardinals' edge as the National League Championship Series resumes in St. Louis on Friday.
As the Road to the World Series enters its final days, the teams that claimed the No. 1 seed in their respective leagues will be leaning on that advantage this weekend, needing to win one out of two at home to reach the 109th Fall Classic.
The Red Sox put themselves in that position by taking the lead and holding on for dear life at Comerica Park, a victory putting them on the way home with some momentum.
The lead came mainly courtesy of Mike Napoli doing it all with a homer blasted to dead center, a single, a double and a run scored on a wild pitch. Holding onto the lead came courtesy of some sharp defense and the effort of the Red Sox's bullpen, topped off by a Koji Uehara five-out save.
So it was with a soaring confidence the Red Sox flew home to Fenway Park, where they hope to take their turnaround season one more step to the World Series.
"Our guys are well aware of where we are," Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Boston's Game 5 win. "But at the same time, the beauty of them is to not get ahead of themselves, and that will be the case once that first pitch is thrown on Saturday."
Said Napoli: "We're in a good position now, but we've still got business to take care of, a big game coming up. We'll go out there and just play, play the way we do."
History says teams going home up 3-2 for a Game 6 have the LCS right where they want it -- that is, at home with a clinch one win away. In the first 18 times that scenario has come up since 1985, the team going home with the lead has won the series 14 times, closing it out in Game 6 on 10 of those occasions. That latter category includes, by the way, the 2011 postseason in which Napoli and the Rangers took out the Tigers in the ALCS and the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the NLCS.
But then, a couple of the greatest postseason comebacks of all time were conducted under the same conditions the Dodgers and Tigers find themselves in now. Famously, the 2004 Red Sox came all the way back against the Yankees in the ALCS and the '03 Marlins caught and passed the Cubs after heading on the road down, 3-2. Somewhat less famously, so did the Braves over the Pirates in the 1991 NLCS and the Royals over the Blue Jays in the 1985 ALCS -- the first LCS ever to go the distance.
After a Game 5 that saw Anibal Sanchez more hittable than in Game 1 and the Tigers unable to finish the comeback, Detroit heads on the road hoping this one goes the distance as well.
But Game 6 on Saturday on FOX comes first.
"We have to win one game and then take it from there. We've got to win one game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
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The Cardinals are one win away from claiming the 19th National League pennant in franchise history, but they have a sturdy challenge ahead when they take on the Dodgers for Game 6 of the NLCS at 8:30 p.m. ET Friday on TBS.
As soon as the Dodgers won Game 5 on Wednesday, they had thoughts of left-hander Clayton Kershaw taking the mound, and for good reason. Having an NL Cy Young Award favorite and one of the very best pitchers around on the mound for a must-win Game 6 is something the Dodgers relish, even if they're on the road and the odds are stacked against them.
"Obviously, I didn't like being down, 3-1, and now not necessarily thrilled about having another elimination game," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Game 5, "but I feel pretty good about having Clayton pitching on Friday night and our chances of getting a seventh game."
Kershaw will be matched against rookie right-hander Michael Wacha, who has been remarkable from his final start of the regular season through two brilliant postseason efforts.
The Cardinals don't need to be reminded about how the Giants rallied from being down, 3-1, to snatch a World Series berth a year ago -- 17 of the 25 players on the current roster were there.
"We've been very clear about the urgency," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Not that we had a lack of it last year, as much as just let's remember and a realization of how quickly that can change, not to take anything for granted. Right now, just keep playing the game. Don't get too far ahead, but also don't live in the past, but remember what happened, learn from it and let's see if we can change the course."
If the Dodgers do manage to win Game 6, they're in more of a historically advantageous position. Among the 50 teams that have forced a Game 7 in a seven-game LCS or World Series, 29 have won the series. Over the past 25 such occurrences, the Game 6 winner has won Game 7 on 19 occasions -- even more frequently.
For now, the Dodgers are just hoping their trip to Busch Stadium lasts more than just one game, and the Cardinals are aiming for a celebration on their home field sooner rather than later.
Friday's League Championship Series game
Dodgers (Kershaw 1-1, 0.47 ERA postseason) at Cardinals (Wacha, 2-0, 0.64 ERA), 8:30 p.m. ET (TBS) Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON
Wild Card: Rays 4, Indians 0
Division Series: Red Sox beat Rays, 3-1 | Tigers beat A's, 3-2
Championship Series: Tigers vs. Red Sox, Boston leads, 3-2
Wild Card: Pirates 6, Reds 2
Division Series: Cardinals beat Pirates, 3-2 | Dodgers beat Braves, 3-1
Championship Series: Dodgers vs. Cardinals, St. Louis leads, 3-2
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
Game 4: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
Game 5: Cardinals 6, Pirates 1, Cardinals win series, 3-2
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3, Dodgers win series, 3-1
AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Game 4: Red Sox 3, Rays 1, Red Sox win series, 3-1
Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0
Game 3: A's 6, Tigers 3
Game 4: Tigers 8, A's 6
Game 5: Tigers 3, A's 0, Tigers win series, 3-2
NL Championship Series (All games on TBS)
Game 1: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (13 innings)
Game 2: Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0
Game 3: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0
Game 4: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2
Game 5: Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4, St. Louis leads series, 3-2
Game 6: Dodgers at Cardinals, Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET
*Game 7: Dodgers at Cardinals, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
AL Championship Series (All games on FOX)
Game 1: Tigers 1, Red Sox 0
Game 2: Red Sox 6, Tigers 5
Game 3: Red Sox 1, Tigers 0
Game 4: Tigers 7, Red Sox 3
Game 5: Red Sox 4, Tigers 3, Boston leads series, 3-2
Game 6: Tigers at Red Sox, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET^
*Game 7: Tigers at Red Sox, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
^ - game time subject to change
WORLD SERIES (All games on FOX)
Game 1: NL champion at AL champion, Wednesday, time TBD
Game 2: NL champion at AL champion, Thursday, time TBD
Game 3: AL champion at NL champion, Saturday, Oct. 26, time TBD
Game 4: AL champion at NL champion, Sunday, Oct. 27, time TBD
*Game 5: AL champion at NL champion, Monday, Oct. 28, time TBD
*Game 6: NL champion at AL champion, Wednesday, Oct. 30, time TBD
*Game 7: NL champion at AL champion, Thursday, Oct. 31, time TBD
* - if necessary