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They may be itchy, they may be unruly, but the beards will live to grow another day. The Boston Red Sox will be playing in the American League Championship Series.
Shane Victorino drove in the go-ahead run in the 7th inning with an infield hit, Craig Breslow recorded five huge outs in relief of Jake Peavy, and Koji Uehara rebounded from Game 3 with a four-out save to give the Red Sox a series-clinching 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Boston now awaits the winner of Thursday’s Game 5 between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.
It seemed the Red Sox were well on their way to the ALCS when they loaded the bases with no outs in the 2nd inning, prompting Rays manager Joe Maddon to give starter Jeremy Hellickson one of the quickest hooks I’ve ever seen. Bases loaded, no outs, and into the Rays bullpen after one inning? A promising start.
As they say, promises are meant to be broken, because reliever Jamey Wright came on and promptly struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia, before getting a double play to end the inning when James Loney speared Stephen Drew’s liner ticketed for the right field corner and made a brilliant off-balance throw to double Mike Napoli off second base. Game 1 starter Matt Moore and left-handed reliever Alex Torres then combined for 4 shutout innings to leave the Red Sox with nothing to show for knocking Hellickson out after just one frame.
Thankfully, Peavy was also masterful, showing a crisp fastball with lots of life on it. He cruised through 5 innings before running into trouble in the bottom of the 6th, allowing a lead-off double to Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar. One out later, David DeJesus would drive him in with a single to right, improbably giving the Rays a 1-0 lead. Peavy would retire right fielder Wil Myers before being lifted for Breslow to face the left-hand hitting Loney, despite giving up only the one run and throwing just 74 pitches through 5.2 innings.
After Breslow struck out Loney to end the 6th, the Red Sox offense went to work against Jake McGee. One night after being adament in letting Saltalamacchia and Drew face the left-handed fireballer, Red Sox manager John Farrell elected to pinch-hit for both in the 7th. Jonny Gomes flied out to center, but newly 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts worked a hard-earned walk, taking three fastballs 96 mph and up with a 1-2 count to put the tying run on. After Jacoby Ellsbury singled off McGee with two outs to put runners on first and third, new Rays reliever Joel Peralta uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering with Ellsbury stealing, allowing Bogaerts to knot the game at 1-1 and Ellsbury to advance all the way to third. That heads up baserunning proved crucial two pitches later when Victorino beat out a dribbler to the shortstop to drive in the go-ahead run.
Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara would shut the door the rest of the way. Breslow struck out the side in the 7th after the Red Sox took the lead, then gave way to Tazawa with one out in the 8th after allowing Escobar to reach despite a diving stop up the middle by Bogaerts. Tazawa punched out punchless pinch hitter Matt Joyce, at which point Farrell turned to his closer for a four out save, even after Uehara surrendered the walk-off homer to Jose Lobaton in Game 3. Uehara returned to form, striking out DeJesus to squelch the 8th inning threat.
Erratic Rays closer Fernando Rodney loaded the bases and gave the Red Sox an insurance run (and me some breathing room) on a Dustin Pedroia sac fly, with Bogaerts scoring after another walk earned from a long, multi-pitch at-bat. Despite the long delay, when Maddon had to burn through his two remaining relievers after his closer imploded (David Price even had to warm for a potential appearance if the Rays tied it), Uehara shut down the heart of the Rays order for the save, punctuated by striking out Evan Longoria on his renowned splitter to send the Red Sox and their beards to the ALCS.
The Red Sox will play either Detroit or Oakland starting Saturday, Oct. 12 at Fenway Park. So keep the beards growing, gentlemen. There’s still October baseball to be played.
Tags: ALCS, Craig Breslow, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Jacoby Ellsbury, jake mcgee, Jake Peavy, Jeremy Hellickson, Koji Uehara, Matt Moore, MLB Playoffs, Shane Victorino, Tampa Bay Rays, Xander Bogaerts