Oct 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcherJose Lobaton
(middle) celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk off solo home run during the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox in game three of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field. The Rays won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It was the type of game that will be remembered forever if the Tampa Bay Rays come all the way back and take this best of 5 ALDS. If not, it was some compelling October baseball and that is always a welcome sight.
Jose Lobaton hit a game winning solo home run off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in the bottom of the 9th for a 5-4 Rays victory. It ended a 4 hour and 19 minute baseball game that had all the good things.
The Red Sox were ahead 1-0 after just 3 batters. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single against Rays starter, and birthday boy, Alex Cobb. Shane Victorino was then hit by a pitch. Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder to Evan Longoria at third. The Rays got the force at 2nd base but Ben Zobrist threw wide of first and Ellsbury came around to score. After walking David Ortiz, Cobb got out of the inning with a fly ball and grounder to keep it 1-0.
The Red Sox got 2 more runs in the top of the 5th inning to set the stage for the October drama. It was 3-0 Boston heading to the bottom of the 5th.
The Rays finally got to Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz. Yunel Escobar led off with a single. With 1 out David DeJesus stroked a double to right field and Escobar moved to 3rd. Ben Zobrist then popped out to short and it looked like another wasted opportunity for the Rays. But today was also Evan Longoria’s birthday, and he wasn’t done having an impact. On a change-up that drifted down and in, Longoria dropped his bat head on it and drove the ball out to left field. The game was tied at 3. Suddenly the Rays, and the Tropicana Dome, had life.
The score stayed tied until the bottom of the 8th inning. Without a ball leaving the infield the Rays took the lead. James Loney walked to lead off the inning and Sam Fuld came in to run for him. Desmond Jennings then pushed a bunt and beat it out for a hit. Matt Joyce popped out his sacrifice bunt attempt. On a ground ball up the middle by Escobar, the Red Sox middle infielders did not communicate. Both played the ball and no one covered the bag and runners were safe at every base. Delmong Young then hit one to Mike Napoli at first, but the only play was to step on the bag and the run scored.
The craziness continued in the 9th inning. Because Wil Myers left the game with a cramp, Joe Maddon was left with no DH to end this game. Based on where Myers hit in the lineup and an earlier double switch, the pitcher’s spot would be due up third if the game went to a bottom of the 9th. Maddon brought in Jose Lobaton to catch and hit in that spot.
Fernando Rodney came in to close out the game for the Rays. Then he promptly started throwing pitches anywhere but the strike zone. Will Middlebrooks walked on 5 pitches to lead off the inning and Xander Bogaerts came in to pinch run for him. Ellsbury blooped one down the left field line for a base hit and the Red Sox had 2 on and no one out. Shane Victorino then bunted them over. With one out and runners at 2nd and 3rd, Joe Maddon decided to let Rodney pitch to Pedroia. He played his infield back to prevent the runner on 2nd from scoring. Pedroia hit a grounder to Escobar and Bogaerts scored the tying run. Rodney regrouped and struck out Mike Carp to end the inning.
Both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria came up empty in the bottom of the 9th. So it became Jose Lobaton as the hero. He hit the first ever walk off home run in playoff history for the Rays. His one swing of the bat that sent a Koji Uehara splitter in to the tank of Rays past the right field wall kept this team alive. They have won 4 different elimination games in the last 10 days and face 1 mor tomorrow night at the Trop. The Rays and Red Sox brought us some of that playoff drama that is why we love baseball in the first place. As a fan of another team, tonight’s game was a pure joy to watch.