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Closing Time: Rays live for another day, walk off against Koji Uehara and Red Sox, 5-4

10.07.13 at 10:33 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

The Red Sox appeared well on their way to a sweep in their best-of-five American League Division Series against the Rays, forging a 3-0 advantage through five innings. With Clay Buchholz on the hill — a pitcher in whose starts the Sox were 12-0 in the regular season when scoring three or more runs — the Sox seemed like they were in position to start making plans for the American League Championship Series.

It didn’t quite happen that way.

Jose Lobaton blasted a two-out solo homer to right-center in the bottom of the ninth against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, the first homer allowed by the remarkable pitcher since June 30, to give Tampa Bay a 5-4 victory and life for another day. The Red Sox still have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, but the Rays have obviously shifted the series dynamic considerably.

The unlikely Lobaton homer concluded a roller-coaster affair. With two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth at a time when the Sox seemed comfortably in control, 3-0, Buchholz hung a changeup that Evan Longoria managed to golf down the left field line, just over the fence, for a three-run homer. From there, the game remained a tremendously taut affair until the bottom of the eighth, when the Rays took advantage of some rare Sox infield defensive lapses.

Franklin Morales walked leadoff hitter James Loney, and pinch-runner Sam Fuld advanced to second when Desmond Jennings pushed a bunt single between the pitcher’s mound and first base, a well-placed bunt on which first baseman Mike Napoli got caught in between, thus leaving first uncovered when Morales fielded the ball.

With runners on first and second, Yunel Escobar then grounded a ball up the middle. In this instance, the tremendous range of both Dustin Pedroia and Stephen Drew up the middle proved costly, as they collided just to the left of second; a potential double-play ball (or at least an out) instead resulted in an infield hit to load the bases. Finally, pinch-hitter Delmon Young bounced a one-out grounder to first, where Napoli made a diving stop to glove the ball to his left, but appeared to struggle to get a grip on the ball, thus preventing him from throwing home for a force. Fuld crossed the plate as the go-ahead run.

Still, the Sox clawed back in the top of the ninth, tying the game, 4-4, when they turned a Will Middlebrooks walk and a Jacoby Ellsbury bloop single into a game-tying rally. But that proved insufficient, with Uehara giving up his first run of the year to the Rays (in his 12th appearance against them).

The Red Sox are still up, 2-1, in the best-of-five set, with Jake Peavy slated to face off against Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson on Tuesday.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— While some of his bold calls worked out, manager John Farrell had a number of gray-area decisions go against him. Among his game-shaping decisions:

  • He had Buchholz pitch to Longoria with first base open, two on and two out in the fifth (one inning after Buchholz had punched out Longoria with a runner on first), a move that ended up opening the door for the Rays when Longoria slammed his ninth career postseason homer. Two innings later, with first base open and a runner on second, Farrell elected to have reliever Junichi Tazawa pitch to Longoria — a decision that paid off when Tazawa induced a pop-up from the Rays slugger.
  • The decision to use Quintin Berry as a pinch-runner in the top of the eighth inning removed the Sox’ best hitter in David Ortiz, albeit at a time when one run might have meant a Sox win. That, in turn, left pinch-hitter Mike Carp to step to the plate with two outs and a runner on third in a 4-4 tie in the top of the ninth. Carp struck out against Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
  • The decision to leave Stephen Drew in against hard-throwing left-hander Jake McGee — and to leave Xander Bogaerts on the bench at the time — with two on and two outs likewise offered gray area, particularly since Farrell had said in September that he’d be inclined to pinch-hit Bogaerts for Drew against tough left-handers in the playoffs.

Clay Buchholz was excellent in escaping harm for the first four innings, but after he’d punched out Evan Longoria (looking) with a changeup in the bottom of the fourth inning, he went to the well one time too many with two on and two out in the fifth, leaving a changeup up that Longoria slammed down the left field line for a three-run homer. It was the first time in 2013 that Buchholz had allowed a homer with multiple men on base. Of the four regular season longballs he’d given up, two were with the bases empty and two more were with one runner on.

— Though the Sox drove up the pitch count of Rays starter Alex Cobb, they rarely made hard contact against him, and were fortunate to compile three runs against him (one when second baseman Ben Zobrist threw away a potential double play grounder while being wiped out by Shane Victorino, and two more in the fifth after Jacoby Ellsbury might have been out at third base on a fielder’s choice in which shortstop Yunel Escobar threw behind him).

Stephen Drew went 0-for-4, and he’s now 2-for-13 in the series.

— The Sox bullpen gave up its first run of the series at an inopportune time, with Morales’ leadoff walk in the eighth setting the stage for the Rays to take the lead.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

For the second straight contest, Jacoby Ellsbury led off the first with a single, grounding a ball through the hole between third baseman Evan Longoria and shortstop Yunel Escobar and came around to score to give the Sox a 1-0 advantage. He later smashed a double off the first base bag to kickstart a two-run Red Sox rally in the fifth, and he dropped a bloop single down the left field line in the ninth. He’s now 8-for-14 (.571) in the series.

“His on’€‘base abilities are among the best in baseball right now. 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,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “The game continues to mature with him, from my perspective. He’s just a good baseball player. And for us to beat them we have to keep him off the bases as often as possible.”

— For the second time in as many games, Victorino leveled Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist with a hard takeout slide at second on a potential double play ball. The first time, it may have served as a prelude to a later error by Zobrist as the pivot on another likely double-play grounder, when Zobrist threw wildly to first for a run-scoring error. On Monday, the impact was more direct, as, with runners on first and second and no outs in the first, Victorino wiped out Zobrist on a potential 5-4-3 double play. Zobrist threw the ball away, permitting Ellsbury to trot home from second for a 1-0 lead in the first and allowing Pedroia to reach.

“Obviously I felt it was a clean play to try to break up a double play,” Victorino said after the Game 2 slide. “I don’t know if a few innings later that rushed throw, that errant throw, had something to do with that. That’s something you’ve got to ask Zo. To me, those things collectively add up.

“We’ve done it all year long,” Victorino said of the impact of such plays. “We capitalize on one mistake and were able to score multiple runs. It’s something we’ve done all year long. That’s what our team is. … You make a mistake, we capitalize. That’s what we’ve been doing one day after another, one game after another.”

Daniel Nava saw 16 pitches in his first two plate appearances, spearheading an effort by Sox hitters to drive up the pitch count of Cobb that resulted in the right-hander’s exit from the game after five innings in which he labored over 94 pitches.

— Berry entered as a pinch-runner for Ortiz and stole a base — or, at least, he was ruled safe even though Zobrist had successfully blocked the bag and appeared to tag him out. Still, the result was another successful steal, keeping Berry’s perfect record intact. He’s 27-for-27 on steals in his big league career — 24-for-24 in the regular season, and 3-for-3 in the playoffs.

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