BOSTON (CBS) – It’s not supposed to be easy in the MLB Playoffs, and the Tampa Bay Rays are not an easy team to eliminate.
They have now survived four elimination games in the last nine days with a 5-4 walk off win over the Red Sox on Monday night, and will look to survive again in Tuesday night’s Game 4.
Boston is still in the driver seat with a 2-1 lead, but things just didn’t break their way as it did in the first two games at Fenway. The defense, which had played so well in Boston, had a rough time in the bottom of the eighth, as Dustin Pedroia slid into Stephen Drew on a ball up the middle, and instead of getting one out — and possible two — the Rays ended up with the bases loaded. They’d score shortly to take a 4-3 lead after Mike Napoli made a nice play on a one-hopper to first, but couldn’t get a handle on the ball for a throw home. He settled for an out at first, and Sam Fuld scored to give Tampa the lead. Boston would tie it in the top of the ninth, but then Jose Lobaton’s solo homer of Koji Ueheara kept the Rays alive for one more night.
Now the Red Sox have to play again Tuesday night, with a little bit of momentum on the Rays’ side.
The Turning Point
Evan Longoria’s three-run homer in the fifth changed everything, giving the Rays some life in this series. Boston had just taken a 3-0 lead with two runs in the top of the fifth, and Buchholz was on his way to working out of another jam, getting Ben Zobrist to fly out to short for the inning’s second out.
Buchholz had gotten Longoria looking in the bottom of the fourth with a change-up, but Longoria smoked that pitch for his three-run blast.
This goes to the guy who ended it with one swing of the bat, Jose Lobaton. He was 0-for-4 in the series heading into his at-bat in the ninth, and was only in the game because right fielder Wil Myers left with an injury after the seventh inning. He made the most of his only opportunity, and the Rays are still breathing because of it.
Lobaton gets bonus points for doing it against Uehara, who hadn’t given up a home run since June 30. Red Sox manager Farrell called the home run “the unforeseen against Koji” after the game.
It’s hard to call anyone “The Goat” in a hard-fought, tightly played playoff game. But as there will be after any playoff loss, there will be plenty of second-guessing of John Farrell’s decisions throughout this one.
The highlights include pitching to Longoria in the fifth with first base open, pinch-running for David Ortiz in the eighth, and then letting Drew hit against a lefty later in that inning. Sure, it’s easy to second-guess each of these after-the-fact, with Longoria hitting the bomb, and Quintin Berry getting stranded on second thanks to a Drew strikeout to end the inning. Farrell defended each of the moves after the game, and said he wouldn’t change a thing.
The Sox manager said he had no thoughts of putting Longoria on and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate, as Buchholz had good success against the Rays third baseman in his career and had retired him in his first two at-bats. He pinch ran for Ortiz because he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to put the speedy Berry on with a chance to take the lead, especially not knowing if Ortiz’s spot would come around again (it did, and Mike Carp struck out to end the top of the ninth with two-on). Farrell also said he had no thought to pinch-hit for Drew, a good fastball hitter, against Tampa lefty-reliever Jake McGee.
It’s hard to argue with Farrell’s logic on any of them, as Buchholz was getting out of jams in the early innings, Berry did his part on the base paths, and it’s hard to imagine a rookie who just sat for nine days (Xander Bogaerts) would get a hit at a key moment.
But since his team lost, the manager is in the spotlight.
The Red Sox still have a 2-1 series lead and can end it Tuesday night when they turn to Jake Peavy in Game 4. The Rays will go with Jeremy Hellickson, who was 1-0 with a 3.44 ERA in three starts against Boston this season.
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