Red Sox prevent Rays from wriggling off the hook again
Boston Red Sox centre fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (2) is congratulated by manager John Farrell (right) and teammates after he scored a run during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the American League Divisional Series at Tropicana Field. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
They have spent the last 10 days sidestepping one crisis after another, surviving four elimination games by the skin of their teeth. Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays ran out of miracles.
They came within seven outs of pulling off a fifth escape in the fourth game of the American League Division Series before their luck turned sour, as the Boston Red Sox ended Tampa Bay’s season with a 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox now go home to Boston to await the winner of the deciding game between Detroit and Oakland on Thursday, for the start of the American League Championship Series on Saturday at Fenway Park.
“It’s good to be past these (Tampa Bay) guys,” said Boston manager John Farrell, “but I’m sure our next opponent is going to be a tall opponent as well. We’ve played this team, what, 23, 24 times? I’m glas we’re done with them. They pitch well, they play good defence, they’re managed well and they are tenacious.”
As is so often the case when October and Joe Maddon collide, this game was a bit of a circus. Maddon is many things, but predictable is not one of them. In this game, he pulled his starting pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson in the second inning and managed to stitch together a four-pitcher shutout through six innings, eventually using eight relief pitchers to finish the game. In the meantime, his offence scored a run against Boston starter Jake Peavy in the sixth.
But it all came unravelled in the Boston seventh and on this night, there was no more magic left in the Tampa Bay bats and arms to overcome the Red Sox, as the Rays had in the ninth inning Monday in their 5-4 win in the third game.
Last Saturday, after falling behind 2-0 in the series, and outscored 19-6 in the two losses, Maddon promised that he was looking forward to getting back to enjoy the autumn colours in New England for Game 5 on Thursday.
His team came close to pulling it off, but the laws of probability, not to mention the strong arms of the Boston pitching staff, caught up with them.
“The Red Sox are real gamers,” said Maddon. “They were really good, didn’t make any mistakes. They’ve really promoted the character within that group.”
The Rays began their series of backs-to-the-wall games a week ago Sunday in Toronto when they had to hold off the Blue Jays on the final day of the regular season just to qualify for a play-in game on Monday against the Texas Rangers. They went to Arlington and won that game, then travelled to Cleveland to take on the Indians last Wednesday in the Wild Card Game. They won that one, too, then lost, and lost badly, in the first two games at Boston.
Monday they pulled off a ninth-inning comeback in Game 3 of this series but that’s where the series of escapes ended.
Jake Peavy was the first roadblock Tuesday and the Red Sox starter was masterful through five innings, shutting out the Rays on three hits. The Rays broke through for a run in the sixth but when the Red Sox came back with two runs of their own in the next half inning, Tampa Bay had no response. They had gotten to Boston’s lockdown closer Koji Uehara for a home run on Monday but they didn’t get a sniff against him or any of his fellow relievers this time.
Long before the game got into the hands of the closers, Hellickson breezed through the first inning, a three-up, three-down, 12-pitch effort but when he came out for the second inning, he had lost it. He threw eight consecutive balls to David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, then gave up a single to Daniel Nava to load the bases. That was enough for Maddon.
He summoned Jamey Wright from the bullpen. Wright struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia, then Stephen Drew ripped a line drive right at first baseman James Loney. Loney snared the screamer, looked quickly to first and decided he couldn’t get Nava but then threw to second to double up Napoli and keep the game scoreless.
“That really took the air out of our sails,” said Farrell.
Thus began the parade of pitchers in from the Tampa bullpen. Wright was followed by Matt Moore who went two innings, then Alex Torres, who also tossed two scoreless.
“Facing nine different pitchers in one game poses problems all its own,” said Farrell. “We felt like we would create something and we did but it took a while.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Tampa broke through for the game’s first run, combining a leadoff double by Yunel Escobar, a groundout by Monday’s hero, Jose Lobaton and an RBI-single by David DeJesus.
But the lead didn’t last long.
In the top of the seventh, Jake McGee relieved Torres. With one out McGee walked pinch-hitter Xander Bogaerts. Will Middlebrooks struck out for the second out but Jacoby Ellsbury’s single put runners at first and third.
Maddon immediately went to set-up man Joel Peralta. With Shane Victorino at the plate, Peralta threw a pitch in the dirt that catcher Jose Lobaton couldn’t handle, allowing Bogaerts to score from third, tying the game. On the same play, Ellsbury went first to third and then scored on an infield single by Victorino to give Boston a one-run lead.
“It always feels good to move on,” said Victorino. “It’s just one step and there are two more to go but this is what we look forward to from the first day of spring training onwards.”
The Red Sox scored another run in the top of the ninth after loading the bases against Tampa closer Fernando Rodney but it was a moot point because of the Red Sox bullpen. Over the last three innings, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Uehara combined to allow just one hit and had six strikeouts.