Backs to the wall, as its been for nearly two weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays were able to stave off elimination for yet another day.
Jose Lobaton’s walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth sealed the Rays 5-4 win.
After falling behind early, a game-tying three-run blast from Evan Longoria in the fifth inning gave the Rays signs of life for the first time since early in Game 1 of their American League Division Series with the Red Sox.
They were able to cut the Sox’s lead in the series to two games to one with Game 5 set for 8:37 on Tuesday.
Longoria celebrated his 28th birthday by going 3 for 4 with three RBIs and a runs scored.
They were able to squeeze out the a go-ahead run in the eighth inning when Delmon Young’s bases loaded ground ball to first allowed Sam Fuld to race home, but gave the lead right back in the bottom of the ninth.
They were saved by Lobaton, who delivered his first postseason walkoff home run, after delivering two in the regular season.
After pitching five innings in the Rays wild card win over the Indians, starting pitcher Alex Cobb was relentless over five more against the Sox, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits, with five strikeouts and two walks.
End of the eighth, Rays 4, Red Sox 3: Rays manager Joe Maddon pushed his chips in and the gamble paid off.
The Rays were able to squeeze out the go-ahead, working the bases loaded with a walk from James Loney, a bunt single from Desmond Jennings and an infield single from Yunel Escobar, then scoring on Delmon Young’s ground ball to first.
Just turning to taking the out at first was enough to have Sox first baseman Mike Napoli steaming.
End of the seventh, Red Sox 3, Rays 3: In his postseason debut in Game 2, Craig Breslow came on in the sixth, got the final two outs, left an inherited runner stranded, came back for the seventh and got a double play ball.
It was the signature sequence of a strong outing from the bullpen. Things weren’t necessarily as smooth tonight, but the Sox pen held things together.
After getting Sean Rodriguez to pop up to third, Breslow gave up a single to Ben Zobrist.
With Longoria coming to the plate, Sox manager John Farrell lifted Breslow and went with Junichi Tazawa, who was able to get Longoria pop up to third as well.
From there, Wil Myers was the only thing standing in the way of a clean inning, and Tazawa took care of the struggling rookie with five pitches, fanning him with a splitter on 2-and-2.
• Myers has stuck out twice today, four times in the series and seven times. He left the game with cramping in his left and right legs and is receiving IV fluids.
Joe Maddon’s decision to hit him in the cleanup spot may come back to haunt him. Matt Joyce moved to right and Maddon plugged Jake McGee in Myers’ spot in the lineup, leaving a huge hole in the lineup when it comes back around.
• Sean Rodriguez has faced Craig Breslow twice this series (both as a pinch hitter), and he’s seen all of three pitches. He grounded out in the sixth inning in Game 2 and he popped up to Will Middlebrooks in foul territory on the first pitch he saw in the seventh tonight. He hasn’t had a hit since his homer in the second inning of Game 1.
End of the sixth, Red Sox 3, Rays 3: After five solid innings, Alex Cobb’s work was done.
He gave up three runs (two earned), one five hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
Joe Maddon turned to his 25-year-old lefty Alex Torres to deal with the bottom of the Sox order, and Torres was able to work the inning without much trouble.
He fanned Daniel Nava with a change up, gave up a single through the left side to Jarrod Saltlalamacchia, got Stephen Drew to pop up to short and caught Will Middlebrooks staring at a fastball.
In two appearances this series, Torres has pitched two clean innings with four strikeouts.
• After tossing his bat and spinning his helmet, Will Middlebrooks had a quick word with home plate umpire Paul Emmel about the called third strike. Pitch F/X had it right on the corner, down and away.
• Today’s game was sold out. The announced attendance is 33,675.
End of the fifth, Red Sox 3, Rays 3: The grimace on Evan Longoria’s face after Clay Buchholz froze him with a changeup in the fourth inning was telling.
It was the same look you’d give a street magician after he ran the same cups and balls trick.
Buchholz came back inside with a changep, but he couldn’t fool Longoria twice.
With two on, Longoria jacked it to left field to tie the game, and give the Rays the first true signs of life since early in Game 1.
It also gave the Rays their first runs off Buchholz this season. In two regular season starts, Buchholz gave up just five hits in 13 scoreless innings with 17 strikeouts.
The Rays desperately needed the runs. After coming up empty with the bases loaded in the fourth, you could feel the volume turning down in the Trop.
More than that, it may have put an end to Buchholz’s night. He was able to get out of the inning, but Brandon Workman was up in the bullpen for the Sox.
*James Loney is 3 for 3 on the day, and 5 for 8 in the series.
• Longoria became the second player in postseason history to hit a home run on his birthday, the other being Willie Mays … Willie Mays Aiken, that is. Aikes hit his birthday bash in Game 1 of the 1980 World Series for the Kansas City Royals.
End of the fourth, Red Sox 1, Rays 0: With talk from Tampa about how Fenway’s quirks played a part in the 19 runs the Sox scored in the first two games, it was inevitable that the catwalks at the Trop would come into play.
The Sox were prepared.
“We’ll run through the nuances of every ballpark as we do, regardless of where we’re playing,” Farrell said yesterday. “So that’s not going to be anything different as far as how we align ourselves for cutoffs and relays, any outfield coverage, or just the fact that it’s a different surface. Our guys have got enough repetition and familiarity with the Trop here, so there’s not going to be a huge change there.
In an at-bat that lasted eight pitches, Zobrist shot one foul ball into the catwalks that never came down and sent another one up there that hit the catwalk and came down, playing tricks on Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw his hands up at one point trying to track it.
He ultimately made the grab in foul ground, but it didn’t matter. The ground rules at the Trop state that any foul ball that hits the cat walk in foul territory is a foul ball.
Zobrist was still alive and and he worked a leadoff walk.
It didn’t seem to affect Clay Buchholz how strike out Evan Longoria, tying him up with a changeup inside, and Wil Myers swinging.
Then things got hairy. James Loney stepped in and stroked a single and Desmond Jennings worked a walk to load the bases for Matt Joyce, who was in the lineup because Joe Maddon had a gut feeling.
So far, that hasn’t worked out. Buchholz struck Joyce out on three pitches to get out of the jam and preserve the Sox’s slim lead.
• Jose Molina nearly gun downed David Ortiz, who wandered off third a little too absent-mindedly after Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out swinging. Ortiz had a funny little exchange with Molina at the end of the inning, meeting him at the plate, exchanging some words and playfully waving him back to his dugout.
• Saltalamacchia has two Ks in two at-bats today (both swinging). That gives him four for the series.
• Alex Cobb made yet another play to end an inning, chasing down Stephen soft grounder to the right side and taking it himself for the third out.
• James Loney has two of the Rays three hits.
• A few faint “Myyyyyeeers” chants could be hear from the stands. Wil Myers is 0 for 2 today (0 for 11 in the series). He nearly took Clay Buchholz deep — a blast that would have put the Rays up 2-1 — but his deep fly ball drifted just outside of the foul pole in right.
End of the third, Red Sox 1, Rays 0: As if it wasn’t evident by the way he’s been fielding his position, Alex Cobb came ready to play.
He said yesterday, “It’s win or go home. So I don’t want to be the one sending us home. I’m going to give everything I’ve got out there.”
Through three innings, he’s found a rhythm, retiring eight straight going back to Mike Napoli in the first. After popping up Jacoby Ellsbury, he struck out Shane Victorino with a curveball and got Dustin Pedroia with a changeup.
His fastball, which has hovered around 92 miles per hour, hasn’t been overpowering. But he’s leaning heavily on his offspeed pitches. After his last start against Cleveland, Cobb said he could there’s value in taking something off his pitches.
“I learned a lot from the last game, definitely,” Cobb said. “The fact that sometimes you’ve taken a little bit off can definitely help you, definitely helps with the action on the pitches a little bit more when you’re a little amped up, things tend to stay up in the zone and you don’t execute pitches as finely as you’d like. Last outing was a good learning point for me, and hopefully I can attribute that to tomorrow night.”
• Clay Buchholz also is settling in as well. He sat the side down in order, fanning Jose Molina with a cutter and absolutely freezing David DeJesus with a curveball.
End of the second, Red Sox 1, Rays 0: There’s some Gold Glove buzz around Mike Napoli, and in two innings of work he’s done everything in his power to add to it.
The Rays got a rare leadoff runner in scoring position with James Loney’s double, but the Napoli quickly erased him, taking snaring Desmond Jenning’s liner and firing to second to double-off Loney.
Before the game Sox manager John Farrell talked about Napoli’s transition and improvement at first.
“Early on before Mike got into games, we had some time we could devote after the workouts where he and Butter [third base coach Brian] Butterfield] had a lot of concentrated one-on-one work, and in those first few days, I remember watching them work and talking to Butter afterward, he felt like this was a guy that had good mobility.”
• Cobb made another great play, running down a dribbled near the third base line, and flinging it off-balanc to beat Will Middlebrooks and by a step for the inning-ending out.
*Daniel Nava made a nice sliding play on Matt Joyce’s fly ball to end the inning. Rays manager Joe Maddon went with Joyce as the DH instead of Desmond Young, who is 1 for 9 all-time against Clay Buchholz.
• Buchholz has thrown 27 pitches, 18 for strikes.
End of the first, Red Sox 1, Rays 0: A wild throw on a double-play turn allowed the Sox to draw first blood, and for a Rays team that’s been uncharacteristically bad defensively, that’s been the story of the series.
But the first sign that the inning wasn’t going to go well was Jacoby Ellsbury’s bouncer through the hole.
He shot it just out of the reach of Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar for his sixth hit of the series. Then Shane Victorino, who had a hard slide into Ben Zobrist in Game 2, took a fastball off the shoulder on the second pitch of his at-bat.
The Ellsbury-Victorino combo has found just about every way to do damage this series, going 8 for 17 with four runs, and four RBIs coming in.
They figured out another one when Dustin Pedroia shot a ball to third base that seemed like it would be a double-play, but blew up when Zobrist tried to take the feed from Evan Longoria and whip it to first.
It sailed into the stands. Ellsbury came around to score, putting a Rays team that was hoping to jump out ahead at home in a hole.
It was the third error of the series for a Rays team that finished with the second fewest errors in the American League in the regular season.
And, obviously, that doesn’t count the Wil Myers play that should essentially be the movie poster for this series.
• Even though he didn’t get the double-play, Mike Napoli made a nice play to get the lead runner David DeJesus on Ben Zobrist’s ground ball.
• Alex Cobb hopped off the mound and stretched out to grab a soft ground ball that got the Rays out of the first.
• Shane Victorino’s been hit twice in the postseason so far. He gave his bat a nice heave and patted Jose Molina on the shoulder before heading to first.
The Rays are dangling off a cliff, the Sox are trying to push them over. Obviously, their mentalities going into Game 3 of the ALDS tonight are both highly intense and completely different.
Describing the atmosphere in the Sox clubhouse before the game, Sox manager John Farrell said, “Kind of chomping at the bit, even with the off days, whether it was prior to the series opening up or even on the off day yesterday.
“Guys are eager to get back on the field. And their focus is about the one game. It’s not about the end result of a series. It’s about tonight, and certainly not getting far ahead of ourselves in any way.”
The Rays, however, feel like they haven’t come close to playing their best baseball.
“We’ve been ready the whole time,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Like I was just talking to the boys inside, we did not play well in Boston. They outplayed us, they beat us. It wasn’t because we weren’t ready to play or were tired, they just beat us. Even through those two games it didn’t look so good.
“I thought we were ready to play and I feel the same way today. With Alex pitching, we feel very good about that. We had a day off, actually slept in our own beds, and that felt good. We’ll see how it turns out tonight.”
Of the 22 teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in the ALDS, only four have come back to win. Also, the Sox are 7-1 after taking a 2-0 lead in the postseason and the combined score of those eight games is 27-6.
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