Boston's Mike Napoli rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the second inning Thursday. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — Mike Napoli is quickly becoming a Tigers killer in the American League Championship Series.
Napoli, the Red Sox first baseman, hit a home run Thursday night, his second in three games at Comerica Park.
Napoli’s homer off Justin Verlander accounted for the lone run in a Game 3 victory Tuesday.
Napoli homered off Anibal Sanchez on a 3-1 fastball to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the second inning of Game 5, sending it 460 feet into the bushes just right of the camera well. He also doubled off a high change-up from Sanchez in the third, scoring on a wild pitch to open up a 4-0 cushion, and singled in the fifth.
Before the game, Napoli said the Red Sox had to get to Sanchez in the early innings, especially since Sanchez no-hit them for six innings in a 1-0 Tigers win in the series opener last Saturday at Fenway.
“It’s nice facing a guy because the more at-bats you have off of somebody you feel more comfortable, but that doesn’t take anything away from what the did last time,” Napoli said of facing Sanchez. “He pitched well. We just have to go out there and battle.
“I have a plan every time I go up there and I try to execute it.”
Napoli certainly did execute it and is now becoming a postseason star. He led the Rangers with a .328 average while starting all 17 postseason games en route to a World Series appearance in 2011, beating the Tigers in the ALCS and losing to the Cardinals in the World Series.
This season, he hit 23 home runs and a career-high 92 RBIs in 498 at bats.
“I’m comfortable in this situation,” Napoli said of playing on the big stage. “I like this time of year, it’s fun. We’re playing for a championship, trying to get there so it’s the fun time of the year and I enjoy it. I remember being younger and it was little more nerve-wracking, but I enjoy it now.”
Napoli has also enjoyed the move from catcher to first base. He feels he has made a smooth transition.
“I enjoy it, it’s a lot easier on my body. It’s been fun. I feel comfortable there and I feel like I’ve gotten better over the year.”
So, does Napoli miss catching?
“No, I don’t miss the physical part,” Napoli said.
And, Napoli sure felt that way after watching Game 5 when Red Sox catcher David Ross took an elbow to the chops from Miguel Cabrera while tagging him out in the first inning, then watching Ross put a block on Tigers catcher Alex Avila while getting tagged out in the second.
Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Verlander, starters in the opening three games of the ALCS limited Red Sox hitters to a .087 average (6-for-69) and 35 strikeouts in 21 innings.
“These guys lead the league, heck they broke a record for strikeouts so they strike out guys,” Napoli said. “We don’t like to strikeout. No one accepts striking out here. We try to put the ball in play and make something happen.”
And, Napoli made sure he set the tempo.
Red Sox manager John Farrell made some changes for Game 5, putting Jonny Gomes in left field, David Ross at catcher and 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts at third base.
Gomes started in Games 2 and 3 — Red Sox victories. He didn’t start in Games 1 and 4 — both losses.
Gomes is 1-for-4 lifetime against Sanchez, while Ross is 2-for-11.
Bogaerts has yet to face Sanchez.
Back in the playoffs
Quintin Berry said it’s odd playing against a team he helped reach the World Series last season, but said it’s good to be back in a similar position a year later.
Berry, who played for the Tigers last season, hooked on with the Red Sox this year.
“I’m blessed to be here,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here, people on the streets have been good to me. I saw someone on the street and she took off her jacket and showed me a jersey of me. With Boston, they’ve shown me nothing but love. It hurt to leave (Detroit), but Boston gave me a chance.”
Tom Markowski contributed