Coming from behind in a tight and tense game with a Tampa Bay Rays team that had been gasping for air for the past two weeks, the Red Sox were able to clinch a 3-1 win in the American League Championship Series with a 3-1 win at Tropicana Field.
Trailing by a run in the seventh inning, the Sox benefited from a bad bounce and some small ball to take a late lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Pitching to Shane Victorino with Xander Bogaerts on third and Jacoby Ellsbury on first, the first pitch Joel Peralta threw went wild on him, bouncing to the backstop and allowing Bogaerts to score the tying run, while Ellsbury, who was already on the move, raced to third.
A Victorino bouncer to short Ellsbury him to cross the plate, putting the Sox ahead and the Rays on the ropes.
The Rays were scrambling all night once Joe Maddon pulled his starter Jeremy Hellickson just six batters into the game after Hellickson loaded the bases in the second inning.
The Rays were able to get out of the jam, but used nine pitchers over the course of the night, including Game 1 starter Matt Moore.
Meanwhile, the Sox’s arms were steady. Jake Peavy threw 5.2 innings of one-run ball in his first postseason start since 2006. With two scoreless innings of work, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa built the bridge for Koji Uehara to come in for the four-out save.
Playing in their fifth elimination game in nine days, the Rays were already dangling over the edge.
The Sox will advance to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2008.
End of the seventh, Red Sox 2, Rays 1: It felt like time was ticking on the Rays bullpen.
Five different pitchers managed to sew together 6.2 scoreless innings and put the Rays in position to grab a slim 1-0 lead.
Then Joel Peralta came in to face Shane Victorino with two on and two-out.
The first pitch he threw blew up on him.
The curveball he tried to start Victorino off with bounced at the plate and by catcher Jose Lobaton. Xander Bogaerts, who drew a walk pinch-hitting for Stephen Drew, came in to score and Jacoby Ellsbury, who was on the move anyway, raced for first to third.
He wasn’t there long. A Victorino bouncer to short allowed him to cross the plate, putting the Sox ahead and the Rays on the ropes.
Again, Ellsbury and Victorino were in the middle of things for the Sox. For the series, Victorino is 5 for 14 with three RBIs.
• Xander Bogaerts still doesn’t have an at-bat in the books, but he’s got two runs to his name this series.
• Shane Victorino showing bunt was played a small but important part in the wild pitch sequence.
End of the sixth, Rays 1, Red Sox 0: As hard as it is to fathom, the Rays have scrambled and improvised their way into the lead late in the game.
Yunel Escobar started things off with a leadoff double (his second hit of the night) and two batters later, David DeJesus drove him in with a single through the right side.
They were the fourth and fifth hits allowed by Jake Peavy on the night, and after getting Wil Myers to fly out to left, John Farrell came out to get him.
Craig Breslow came in and polished off the inning with three pitches, fanning James Loney with a fastball.
• So before before he had to completely bawl up his gameplan for the night, this was what Joe Maddon had in mind for his bullpen:
“Matt Moore is an addition to the bullpen tonight,” he said. “You’re not going to see him coming in trying to get out of a jam in an inning, it’s got to be somebody else. He’s going to have to start an inning. If the game goes farther in the night, hopefully not, hopefully do it in nine innings, but you have more ability if the game gets longer.”
Clearly, Maddon’s on Plan D at this point. Using four pitchers, the Rays managed to hang in. Now that they have a slim lead late, things could get tricky. Maddon said he felt good about his bullpen Jake McGee is still an option after throwing 28 pitches last night, and Chris Archer is obviously still available for some long work.
• Peavy’s line: 5.2 innings, five hits, one run, three strikeouts.
End of the fifth, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: Standing at first base after being hit by a pitch for the third time this series, Shane Victorino tried to convince everyone, including himself that he was all right.
He took a 93 mile per hour fastball from Alex Torres square on the arm.
He tried his best to eat it — the same way as, say, the guy who tells you to punch him in the stomach — but the pain was still on his face while he was on the basepaths.
Since he started hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate, it’s come with the territory. He was hit seven times in September alone.
• With the game still scores, Now seem’s like a good time for a reminder that 11 of the 19 meetings between these two teams in the regular season were decided by two runs or less and three games went into extras.
End of the fourth, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: Outs are constantly coming in twos tonight. The Rays and Sox have grounded into two double plays apiece, pulling the plug on potentially big innings for both teams.
The Sox are 1 for 4 with runners in scoring position with four runners left on base. While the Rays have only had one runner in scoring position.
• With his single to right, David Ortiz is now 5 for 10 in the series. He’s had a hit in each of his past five postseason games.
End of the third, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: As if the Rays could be any more in survival mode, they’ve turned to Game 1 Matt Moore after Jeremy Hellickson went up in flames.
Somehow they’re holding things together. After James Wright walked Will Middlebrooks, Moore got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground into a double play, then struck out Shane Victorino.
Recall that Moore lasted just 4.1 innings and gave up seven runs in Game 1, so he has a chip on his shoulder.
• Jake Peavy’s as intense as you would imagine, actually screaming at himself after striking out Kelly Johnson with a change up. He retired the first seven batters he faced.
• Between Johnson, Delmon Young, and Matt Joyce, Rays DHs are 3 for 15 in the series.
End of the second, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: With the bases loaded, Joe Maddon could probably see the Rays entire season flash before his eyes.
Things unraveled monumentally for Jeremy Hellickson. He walked David Ortiz and Mike Napoli on eight pitches then gave up a single to Daniel Nava, and Maddon had no choice but to get on the phone to the bullpen.
Even though the Rays had come back last night, he couldn’t have his team play from behind again.
So he pulled Hellickson, and called on James Wright, the same James Wright who gave up four runs in the eighth inning in Game 1 in his postseason debut.
It was a dice roll. And with Wright on the mound, Maddon still had Game 1 starter Matt Moore warm up in the pen.
That Wright got the Rays out of the inning was a minor miracle. He caught Jarrod Saltalamachia staring at curveball that just caught the outside of the plate.
The next at-bat, Stephen Drew shot a rope down the line — the kind that stops hearts — but James Loney — all 6 feet, 3 inches of him — stretched to make the grab, tried to tag Nava at first but couldn’t, then had the presence of mind to make the throw to double off Napoli at second.
The double-play saved the inning. Maddon’s quick hook may have saved the Rays.
• After a miserable end to the season, Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson bottomed out.
After going 0-4 in August, giving up 21 runs in five starts, even he was surprised that Maddon decided to go with him in Game 4, but the show of confidence barely lasted an inning.
• Saltalamacchia has struck out six times in the series.
End of the first, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: For the first time in the series, the Rays managed to keep Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino off the basepaths in the first inning.
One of the Sox’s table-setters had reached base in the first frame each of the previous three games.
Figuring out a way to stop them from doing damage early was a focal point for Maddon, particularly Ellsbury, who is 8 for 14 with six runs scored in the series.
“Primarily, when everybody looks at batting average or hitting or whatever, but his on-base abilities are among the best in baseball right now,” Maddon said. “You’re better off when you don’t permit him to get on base, and then it really helps. The other day he was on all the time. He’s very good. He’s a difference maker. He continues to get better.”
• Hellickson looked strong in the first inning. All he needed was 11 pitches (seven strikes) to get out of it.
• Wil Myers is still hitless for the series, tapping one back to the mound to make him 0 for 13.
Pregame: It shouldn’t be surprising at all that after staying alive with a walkoff homer, the Rays are still riding the high from their Game 3 win.
“That’s Game 7 last night,” Joe Maddon said. “To win that under those circumstances — we’ve had such great moments in a brief period of time here — it’s way up there.”
It doesn’t change the fact that they’re essentially playing their fifth elimination game in the past two weeks, and the Sox are was eager to put them away as they were just a day ago.
They’ll have a emotional fireball on the mound in Jake Peavy, who will be making his first postseason start since 2006.
“Jake, we know he’ll pitch with a lot of enthusiasm,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’ll probably be screaming at himself, as we’ve seen on the mound. And it will be a matter of how we navigate through those two or three situations inside of tonight’s game that will require a big pitch to be made.
“This is the stage in which we acquired Jake to come in and contribute to, and we’re looking forward to him taking the mound.”
Should the Rays find a way to force a decisive Game 5 in Boston, David Price will take the mound. But that’s a long nine innings away.
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