With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Boston manager John Farrell didn’t hesitate to bring in his closer Koji Uehara. Unfortunately for the Sox and Uehara, Rays catcher Jose Lobaton was not impressed with Uehara’s dominant regular season performance. After two quick outs, Lobaton laced the second pinch he saw from Uehara over the fence, lifting the Rays to a 5-4 win and forcing a game 4 in Tampa Bay tomorrow night at 8:30 on TBS.
Monday night’s ALDS game three playoff between the Red Sox and Rays was the kind of contest that fans had expected after the tough as nails down the stretch Rays had proven that they could be that kind of team. The Rays had folded in the first two games of their best of five series against Boston and their prospects didn’t looked good in game three.
Boston drew first blood in the top of the first inning when Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder to third baseman Evan Longoria who wasn’t able to turn the DP with second baseman Ben Zobrist, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to score. Then Rays starter Alex Cobb settled down and he and Sox starter Clay Buchholz got down to business.
As the contest wore on the Red Sox returned to their previously successful formula of sweating out and grinding down opposing pitchers. Cobb bent but did not break, escaping a two men on jam in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Rays saw what the Sox were doing and decided to turn the tables on Boston. In the bottom of the fourth Buchholz got jammed up in a bases loaded, two out pickle after the Rays got more patient at the plate. Guess what? Buchholz bent but didn’t break and the Sox stayed up 1-0 after he punched out Matt Joyce.
Boston’s aggressive base running style paid off again in the fifth inning and the Rays wilted under the pressure. Ellsbury had a sure thing infield single and took second on a questionable double that could have easily been called an error. MLB.com’s game summary says it all.
Boston consistently took advantage of every opportunity presented to them and the Rays squandered nearly every one presented to them, that is until the fifth inning when Evan Longoria homered off Junichi Tazawa to tie the game at 3-3 after Yunel Escobar singled and David DeJesus doubled to put two men aboard.
The Red Sox threatened in the eighth when David Ortiz walked. The Sox inserted speedster Quintin Berry and he stole second, literally. A number of replays showed that Berry was likely out but the bang, bang call stood. The swipe made Berry a perfect 25 for 25 in his career.
After a ground out by Mike Napoli, the chess match continued. Farrell substituted Jonny Gomes for left fielder Daniel Nava, who was intentionally walked by Joe Maddon to get to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and his .218 right-handed average against lefties. The gambit paid off as Rays reliever Jake McGee punched out Salty.
When McGee got Stephen Drew to pop out (below .200 against lefties this season), the Trop rocked and McGee and the Rays were off the hook.
In the bottom half of the frame the Rays got the Sox on the ropes. With Franklin Morales on the mound, new Red Sox nemesis James Loney walked, Desmond Jennings singled and Escobar singled against Sox reliever replacement Brandon Workman and Delmon Young grounded out to first base to score Loney and put the Rays up 4-3.
That left it up to Rays closer Fernando Rodney to get the save and force a game four. Of all the great stuff Rodney has done in his career, one of the few things he hasn’t done is get a save in the post season. Boston got to him and in his head early. He walked Will Middlebrooks on five pitches and gave up an Ellsbury jam shot down the left field line that dropped in between third, short and left field to put Red Sox runners on first and second with none out.
Shane Victorino did what he does so well in the this situation. He dropped down a perfect bunt to move Middlebrooks and Ellsbury to second and third. With one out Pedroia ground out to short stop and Boston tied the game 4-4. Rodney’s playoff no save streak continued.
With pinch hitter Mike Carp up Ellsbury easily swiped third base, putting Rodney and Rays in a tight spot. Rodney struck out Carp. 4-4, bottom of the ninth and Maddon unable to use his DH due to lineup changes that would force his pitcher to bat the rest of the way.
Uehara looked solid in the ninth until the dramatic Lobaton homer extended the series. In the end, Boston played well but not well enough to win and the Uehara armor revealed a chink.
Don’t let Joe Maddon and his boys get a foot in the door gentlemen. They just may kick it open.