The Boston Red Sox showed their resourcefulness in beating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to advance to the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.
The Red Sox claimed the best-of-five American League Division Series 3-1 and next host either Oakland or Detroit in a best-of-seven set, scheduled to start on Saturday in Boston, for the right to represent the American League in the World Series.
The A’s and the Tigers are tied 2-2 in their series with the deciding Game 5 to be played in Oakland today.
Boston squandered solid scoring chances early, including a bases loaded, no-out opportunity in the second inning, but despite not hitting up to par overcame a 1-0 deficit late in the game against a merry-go-round of Rays pitchers.
“This is a team that is smart in between the lines,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “They relish the opportunities that they get. We’re not done yet and we’re moving on.”
The Red Sox scored two runs in the seventh inning on a wild pitch by reliever Joel Peralta and an infield single by Shane Victorino, before adding an insurance marker in the ninth after closer Fernando Rodney walked two, threw a wild pitch and hit a batter to set the stage for a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia.
Tampa Bay, desperate to avoid elimination, used nine pitchers, tying the post-season record. Although they yielded just six hits they combined to issue eight walks and twice hit Victorino with pitches.
Boston closer Koji Uehara bounced back from a rare failure on Monday, when he served up a game-ending home run to Jose Lobaton, by registering a four-out save, striking out Rays slugger Evan Longoria to end it.
The Red Sox revised their roster and changed managers after a dismal 69-93 last-place showing last year and this season tied for the best record in the majors at 97-65.
“Just because we lost a lot of games last year, I believed that we’d be back,” Pedroia said. “The front office put together a team with a lot of guys that wanted to win and we’re showing it. Guys grinded out at-bats, found a way to score a couple of runs and the pitching staff did a great job.”
It was an “all hands on deck” approach by Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who removed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in the second inning after he loaded the bases with none out.
In came reliever Jamey Wright, who wriggled out of the jam by striking out Jared Saltalamacchia and getting a double play off a line drive by Stephen Drew hit at first baseman James Loney.
After the early missed opportunities for Boston, the Rays were first to get on the scoreboard.
Yunel Escobar led off the sixth inning against Boston starter Jake Peavy with a double high off the fence in left and then scored on a single to right by David DeJesus, but Boston kept scrapping and got a spark when Farrell played a hunch and pinch-hit 21-year-old rookie Xander Bogaerts of Curacao for Drew in the seventh against lefty Jake McGee.
Bogaerts drew a walk and with two outs red-hot Jacoby Ellsbury improved his series batting average to .500 with a single, moving Bogaerts to third and in came reliever Joel Peralta.
With Ellsbury running on a stolen base try, Peralta bounced a change-up to Victorino that skipped by catcher Lobaton.
Bogaerts scored and Ellsbury went all the way to third, from where he scored on a little dribbler to short that Victorino beat out for an infield hit.
“Thankfully, we pinch-hit with Bogaerts, a kid with ice in his veins, draws a walk and we broke through,” Farrell said.
Rays skipper Maddon said the mass procession of pitchers was not according to plan, though he did not pinpoint that as Tampa Bay’s problem.
“We just needed to score more runs against their pitching,” he said.