ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rays are still afloat in the A.L. division series.
Jose Lobaton hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning into the giant fish tank beyond the center-field wall, and Tampa Bay staved off elimination once again by beating the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Monday night.
Evan Longoria had a three-run homer and the Rays averted a playoff sweep, cutting Boston’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-five series. Game 4 is tonight at Tropicana Field, with Jake Peavy starting for the Red Sox against Jeremy Hellickson.
“Look at this whole week working up to today, and then this game is even more dramatic than the other games we had already won,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s really an incredible day for the Rays.”
Tampa Bay won a win-or-go-home game for the fourth time in nine days. The Rays did it with an unlikely stroke as Lobaton, who came off the bench to catch in the top of the ninth inning, connected against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s something you can’t explain,” Lobaton said. “We never give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Back home after two weeks on the road, the Rays gave a sellout crowd of 33,675 little to cheer about until Longoria homered on his 28th birthday. His three-run shot off Clay Buchholz with two outs in the fifth rallied Tampa Bay to a 3-all tie.
Pinch-hitter Delmon Young, who has a penchant for driving home key runs in October, put the Rays up 4-3 with an RBI grounder in the eighth.
The Red Sox tied it in the ninth after closer Fernando Rodney issued a leadoff walk to Will Middlebrooks. Dustin Pedroia’s RBI grounder tied it at 4.
With a runner on third, pinch-hitter Mike Carp was called out on strikes to end the inning. Carp batted for Quintin Berry, used as a pinch-runner for David Ortiz in the eighth.
Berry stole second on a close play that drew an argument from Maddon. But when Ortiz’s spot came up in the ninth, Boston’s big slugger wasn’t there.
Rodney got the win when Lobaton golfed a low pitch to right-center. The ball deflected off a fan trying to catch the souvenir and wound up in the 10,000-gallon tank where cownose rays swim.
Uehara did not give up a home run in his final 37 regular-season appearances. The last time he served one up was June 30 to Toronto’s Jose Bautista.
“That was an exciting game; well-played game,” Boston manager John Farrell said, noting he expected something similar tonight.