Back-up catcher Jose Lobaton kept Tampa Bay’s season alive with a walk-off home run in the ninth inning that lifted a jubilant Rays to a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of their American League Division Series.
Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five series, the writing looked on the wall for the Rays after they fell 3-0 behind early in the must-win encounter, then blew a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth.
However, Lobaton smacked a two-out blast off Koji Uehara to give the Rays the win and cut the series deficit to 2-1 ahead of Game 4 in Tampa Bay yesterday.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s something you can’t explain,” Lobaton told reporters after coming off the bench in the ninth inning to win the game for Tampa Ray. “We never give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”
The Rays are used to being on the brink and fighting their way out of it, having now won an elimination game for the fourth time in nine days.
They defeated Toronto in a must-win regular-season finale, then beat Texas in a one-game tiebreaker and Cleveland in the wild-card playoff.
Outplayed twice at Fenway Park, Tampa Bay finally looked a match for Boston when Evan Longoria smacked a game-tying, three-run homer in the fifth inning, before Delmon Young brought in the go-ahead score on a groundout in the eighth.
The joy appeared short-lived, though, when Rays reliever Fernando Rodney blew the lead in the top of the ninth to allow Boston to tie up the game at 4-4, but Tampa Bay fans were soon back on their feet in the bottom of the inning.
“That was a moment to remember,” Longoria said of his teammate’s home run. “Lobaton came through and now we can hopefully carry that momentum into [Game 4].”
Boston won the first two games by a combined score of 19-6 and the Red Sox dominated early in Game 3, scoring once in the first inning and twice in the fifth, which was the final inning completed by Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb.
The Red Sox had Clay Buchholz on the mound, who was limited to 16 starts during the regular season because of a neck strain that sidelined him from June to last month.
The lack of game time appeared to tell as the contest progressed and he ended up striking out five in six innings, and allowing seven hits, including the big one to Longoria.
Boston used four relievers before reaching losing pitcher Uehara in the ninth inning.
Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits and scored two runs in the defeat for the Red Sox, while James Loney finished three-for-three on the winning side.