BOSTON -- The Tigers scored more than three runs just three times on this nine-game road trip that began in Cleveland and stopped over in Toronto. Those were the three games they won. Miguel Cabrera sent them home Wednesday night with a drive that nearly hit the Mass Pike.
"It was a tough trip," manager Jim Leyland said. "But we survived."
It wasn't a particularly easy getaway game they survived, either, no matter how effortless Cabrera's home run swing looked. Detroit scored five runs in the fifth inning with help from back-to-back homers from Cabrera and Prince Fielder on consecutive swings, and it needed all of that to hold on for a 7-5 win and avoid what would've been a crushing series sweep at Fenway Park.
The win finished the Tigers' trip at 3-6 and kept them 2 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox in the American League Central. They head home for a seven-game homestand that begins against the same Indians club that took two out of three from them to begin the trip.
That series, and the seventh-inning rally the Indians got off Justin Verlander in last Thursday's finale, seemed to set the tone for the rest of the trek. By the end, they were no longer charging into command of the division, but trying to keep pace with the resurgent White Sox.
"We got another tough trip out of the way," Leyland said. "It's always good to go home, but at the same time, you've got to go home and play good. We were one win away from an OK trip."
The flip side, of course, was being one loss away from a disastrous trip. That was the urgency in the cool New England air Wednesday.
"You guys know where we're at, what we're looking for and what everybody expects for us," said reliever Octavio Dotel. "It was good to win today. Hopefully, we keep winning for the next two months coming up."
You had to wonder if the Tigers would do that Thursday once the Red Sox led off their half of the opening inning with a double off the first-base bag and quickly turned it into a 1-0 lead for Aaron Cook, who racked up seven ground-ball outs through the first three innings.
Fielder's double and Brennan Boesch's two-out single evened the score in the fourth, but Quintin Berry's close pickoff at first base on a 3-1 count to Cabrera and Jacoby Ellsbury's diving catch to rob Delmon Young to end the inning didn't allow much confidence that the Tigers had turned their momentum.
One hanging curveball and one swing from Cabrera -- after three singles and the go-ahead run had scored earlier in the fifth -- changed the tone. The sound of the announced sellout crowd of 37,213 noted it.
"That's what he does," Fielder said. "No surprise. He's been doing that since he was 20."
Cabrera rarely turns on pitches and sends them down the left-field line, but when he does, he tends to make them no-doubters. Wednesday fit that category, a soaring drive so far over the Green Monster that it apparently cleared Lansdowne Street, driving in Austin Jackson with his 26th home run of the year for a 5-1 lead.
"Like I always say, I don't go on vacations that far," Leyland said.
Said Cook: "The biggest problem was hanging a breaking ball to one of the best hitters in the game. He had the long at-bat. I tried to do something different, hung a curveball and that's what he's supposed to do with that type of pitch."
Yet on his first pitch to Fielder, with the crowd still murmuring, he did it again. Fielder sent that one to near-straightaway center field, barely clearing the wall for his 17th homer.
"I thought I hit it good, but I didn't know," Fielder said. "I thought it might have a chance to maybe hit the wall, but I wasn't sure if I had enough to get it out."
It marked the second time this trip Cabrera and Fielder homered back-to-back, and the second time this season they've done it against the Red Sox, the other coming in the season-opening series at Comerica Park. Compared with last Friday at Rogers Centre, however, Wednesday night was a show.
"When I'm making bad pitches to the best hitters in the game and just leaving them up, they did exactly what they were supposed to do with those pitches," Cook said.
That gave Tigers starter Rick Porcello (8-6) a well-deserved glut of run support after holding down Boston after that first-inning run. With a fastball consistently at 94-95 mph and two different breaking balls working, he fanned six of the first 15 batters he faced, one shy of his season high for a start, and escaped a fifth-inning threat with a double play from the speedy Carl Crawford.
Just as he seemed ready to cruise, three consecutive singles leading off the sixth inning immediately changed the tone of Porcello's start.
"He gave up the blooper to [Dustin] Pedroia," Leyland said, "but after that, they hit about three or four balls hard."
Three runs scored in the inning before Phil Coke struck out Ellsbury to strand the potential tying run on base. Crawford's leadoff homer off Coke in the seventh made it a one-run game, but Dotel retired the middle of the Red Sox's lineup in order to send the lead to Detroit's late-inning duo of Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.
"He was an unsung hero again tonight," Leyland said of Dotel.
Cabrera, of course, was the celebrated one.