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Two blinks of an eye, two swings of the bat, two home runs. Evan Longoria hit a three-run home run in the fifth inning to tie the game at 3-3, then Jose Lobaton hit a home run of his own off closer Koji Uehara with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Tampa Bay Rays a 5-4 walk-off win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS.
The Red Sox had managed to knot the score at 4-4 in the top of the ninth, but even after retiring the first two batters on just three pitches, Uehara could not get the final out to send the game to extra innings. Instead, the Red Sox will look to close out the ALDS when they play the Rays in Game 4 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. First pitch is at 8:37 PM.
The Red Sox jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. Leading off the game, Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a single to left, then scored on a throwing error by Ben Zobrist when Dustin Pedroia grounded into a would-be double play (Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch to reach).
Starters Alex Cobb and Clay Buchholz traded zeroes until the fifth. In the top of the inning, Ellsbury doubled with one out to collect his eighth (!) hit of the series already, all in just 14 at-bats. Victorino followed by hitting a chopper past the third baseman Longoria for an infield hit. On the play, Ellsbury snuck into third just ahead of the throw from the shortstop Yunel Escobar, who corralled the bounding ball in the hole (it bears mentioning he had a helping hand from the third base umpire; replays showed Ellsbury to be out on a close tag play). Ellsbury would race home on a wild pitch and after Dustin Pedroia grounded out to second, David Ortiz singled home Victorino for a 3-0 Red Sox lead.
However, like aggression in the Big Lebowski, this lead would not stand. Longoria turned on a thigh-high changeup left juuuust far enough off the inside corner for a three-run home run into the first row of the left field stands. Buchholz would allow Wil Myers and former Red Sox first baseman James Loney to reach after, but escaped further damage by inducing a pop-up from Desmond Jennings to retire the side. (He would come back on for the sixth and somehow retire the Rays 1-2-3. Go figure.)
The game remained tied until the eighth, when the Red Sox gave back the runs handed to them early on with some shoddy defense. Franklin Morales allowed the first two batters to reach before being gifted the first out on a botched bunt attempt that Jarod Saltalamacchia caught by the backstop. Manager John Farrell summoned Brandon Workman to put out the fire, and if my reaction was any indication, they both must have watched in abject horror as Drew and Pedroia nearly collided on a probable double play ball to the left of second. Drew looked as if he might be able to step on second and throw to first for an inning ending double play, but he had to slide into his fielding attempt to avoid bowling over Pedroia, then bobbled the ball trying to just get the man at first while simultaneously tangled with Pedroia.
With the bases loaded and just one out, pinch hitter Delmon Young hit a grounder to first that Mike Napoli might have been able to throw home for the force out. Either he hesitated or decided he didn’t have a play, because Napoli ended up just stepping on first for the second out, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Up 4-3 and three outs away from forcing Game 4, Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in his closer, Fernando Rodney, who on his way from the bullpen to the mound seemingly forgot where the strike zone is. He walked Will Middlebrooks to lead off and gave up a perfectly placed flare to Ellsbury on a 2-0 pitch. Following Victorino’s sacrifice bunt, Pedroia hit an RBI groundout to first for a tie game, but pinch hitter Mike Carp struck out looking to leave Ellsbury stranded at third after a stolen base.
Uehara entered to bring fans bonus baseball, but could only retire the first two batters despite his sparkling regular season. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton strolled to the plate with two outs after Maddon was forced to shift DH Matt Joyce to right field when Myers left the game with cramps (no, not of the menstrual variety). The double switching paid off in the end, as Lobaton spanked a 1-0 pitch to straightaway center for a walk-off home run to extend the series and avoid a Red Sox sweep.