DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera hobbled through a stop sign, gently colliding with the catcher for an easy out at home.
Anibal Sanchez showed none of his no-hit stuff, Detroit’s first shaky outing from its rotation in the AL championship series.
And yet the Comerica Park crowd had a chance to roar Thursday night when Prince Fielder came to the plate in the fifth and seventh innings. But each time, Fielder failed to come through and cheers quickly turned to jeers for the slumping slugger.
Fielder extended his postseason drought without an RBI to a career-long 65 at-bats and that helped Boston hold on for a 4-3 win and a 3-2 series lead that put the Tigers on the brink of elimination.
“He’s had some good at-bats, doesn’t have a lot to show for it, and some not so good at-bats,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I know people say, ‘Well, you keep waiting for it.’ I still feel good something big could happen at any time. He’s one of those electric guys.”
The rotund first baseman doesn’t deserve all the blame, but he’s going to get a lot of it — especially if Detroit doesn’t win the last two games in the best-of-seven series — and he may have boos ringing in his ears from Game 5.
“It isn’t pleasant, but they are fans and that’s what they do,” Fielder said. “They paid to be here.”
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch gave his OK to sign Fielder to a $214 million, nine-year deal last year to replace the then-injured Victor Martinez, expecting him to produce at the plate.
Fielder simply has not, often swinging early in counts for weak grounders that make fans in the Motor City groan.
“I want to hit homers just as much as everyone wants me to hit homers, but I don’t have a magic wand,” said Fielder, who has gone 16 games and 53 at-bats since clearing a fence on Sept. 22 against the Chicago White Sox.
Fielder hasn’t driven in a run during the postseason in 17-plus games since the opener of the 2012 ALCS against the New York Yankees. The longest RBI drought of his career during the regular season was with the Milwaukee Brewers during a 44 at-bat skid in 2008, according to STATS.
Leyland moved Austin Jackson from leadoff to eighth in the lineup in Game 4, and it has worked out well for him in two straight games.
The veteran manager, though, doesn’t plan to move Fielder, a five-time All-Star who has averaged 111 RBIs in his last seven seasons, out of the middle of the lineup.
“We’ll just pretty much leave it the way it is,” Leyland said.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said his pitchers have done a good job of keeping Fielder guessing at the plate.
“Not really settling in any one pattern,” Farrell said.
Fielder, though, wasn’t Detroit’s only problem in its third one-loss loss of the series, a defeat that put Boston within one win of the World Series.
Cabrera, who can barely run, in part because of a lingering groin injury, wrecked the Tigers’ first chance to score in Game 5.
He saw third base coach Tom Brookens wave him home initially as he was running toward third when Jhonny Peralta singled with two outs in the first. But Cabrera said it was too late for him to stop when Brookens sent both arms up in the air to signal for him to stop and load the bases.
“That’s my fault,” Cabrera said.
Leyland shifted at least some responsibility to Brookens.
“What happens with two outs sometimes, you’re thinking you’ve got to score with two outs, that’s the old baseball thing,” Leyland said. “But in this particular case with Miggy, you’ve got to hold him up right away. He was waving, and it probably stopped him a little late.”
Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes made an accurate throw to catcher David Ross, who tagged out Cabrera without having to brace himself to take a huge hit from the 6-foot-4, 240-pound reigning AL MVP.
After Mike Napoli hit one of the most impressive homers over the center field wall in Comerica Park history in the second inning for the game’s first run, Cabrera couldn’t field Gomes’ grounder that went off the heel of his glove at third base. The error extended the inning, helping Boston take a 3-0 lead.
Down 4-0, Cabrera hit an RBI single in the fifth. Fielder was up next and grounded out to end the inning.
Cabrera had a chance in the seventh, but grounded into a double play with runners at the corners. Fielder then grounded out again to finish the inning.
Sanchez struggled to pitch anything like he did in the series opener when he didn’t give up a hit and struck out 12 over six innings, helping the Tigers win 1-0 for the only lead they’ve had in the series.
Now, it will be up to 21-game winner Max Scherzer to extend the series by winning Game 6 on Saturday afternoon in Boston to give Justin Verlander a shot to win a second decisive game this postseason.
“We have to win one game and then take it from there,” Leyland said.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage