ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- “Koji,” the Boston Red Sox learned in shocking fashion, does not mean “sure thing” in Japanese, all appearances to the contrary.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had not allowed a home run in 38 appearances since June 30. He had faced 137 batters since Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays took him deep at Fenway Park; none of them had jogged around the bases.
In Game 2 of the American League Division Series, he threw 11 pitches, all strikes, to earn the save. In Monday night's Game 3, he retired the first batter he faced, Ben Zobrist, on one pitch. It took him three pitches to retire Evan Longoria. The next batter was supposed to be cleanup hitter Wil Myers, but he had left the game after the seventh inning because of cramps in his legs. Myers was said to be connected to IV tubes filling him with fluids.
Lobaton took a splitter for a strike. Uehara threw another, and Lobaton hit it into the center-field seats for a walk-off home run that gave the Rays a 5-4 win, extending their division series.
There will be a Game 4 Tuesday night. The Rays, 15 outs away from being eliminated and three runs down, tied the score in the fifth on Evan Longoria’s three-run home run. They went ahead 4-3 with the help of a bunt single and infield hit. They gave up the tying run in the top of the ninth on a walk, bloop, sacrifice and infield out. Then they blew the roof off the Trop in the bottom of the inning.
Birthday basher: Longoria, who turned 28 on Monday, wasn’t planning to end his birthday on a sour note. "I definitely don’t think I’m done playing baseball," he said Sunday, when he was one of the few Rays to show up for an optional workout.
"We have to find a way to rekindle that flame," he said. "I like our chances here. We've played really well down the stretch. I know that our home fans will be out in full force. I think our record speaks for itself when we've had a full house. We play pretty well."
The fans, many with cowbells, showed up 33,765 strong. Though the Rays’ prospects appeared to be slipping away, down three runs with 15 outs to go. Yunel Escobar reached on an infield hit, and one out later, David DeJesus doubled to the gap in right-center. Zobrist chased a pitch high and away to pop to short for the second out, bringing up Longoria. With the count 0 and 1, he drove a changeup -- the same pitch he’d fanned on an inning later -- just over a leaping Daniel Nava in left field, for the ninth postseason home run of his career.
Longoria also became the first player since Willie Mays Aikens of the Kansas City Royals in 1980 to hit a postseason home run on his birthday.
Slidin’ Hawaiian: In Game 2 on Saturday, Shane Victorino took out Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist with a hard slide. An inning later, Zobrist sailed his throw to the dugout railing on another attempted double play, his throwing error leading to a Sox run. Had Victorino planted a seed in Zobrist’s head?
“Absolutely," Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said on Sunday. “And it’s little things like that that can change a game."
On Monday, Victorino was at it again, barreling into Zobrist on Dustin Pedroia’s double-play ground ball. Zobrist threw wildly again, and Jacoby Ellsbury scored from second on the play to give the Sox a 1-0 lead in the first.
The Sox, who have been in carpe diem mode throughout the series, increased their lead to 3-0 in the fifth. Ellsbury grounded a double down the line off the glove of first baseman James Loney.
Victorino then bounced a ball through the hole on the left side that struck the wrist of Escobar, popped into the air and right into his glove. Escobar, whose momentum was carrying him toward foul territory, flipped to third baseman Longoria, who slapped a tag on Ellsbury, who had neglected to slide.
Third-base umpire Larry Vanover ruled Ellsbury safe in an extremely close play, a call that the Sox converted into another run when Rays starter Alex Cobb uncorked a wild pitch. Victorino, who had reached first on the infield hit, took second and scored when David Ortiz slapped a single to left, crossing up the Rays’ shift.
Cat[walk] on a hot Teflon roof: The Rays, who had complained about being “out-Fenwayed” in the two losses in Boston because of crazy caroms off the Monster, benefited from the bizarro effects that come into play in the Trop. Sox starter Clay Buchholz induced a high foul pop from Ben Zobrist leading off the fourth that was caught by Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the ball was ruled dead because it had struck the B-ring catwalk. Trop ground rules stipulate that any ball in foul territory that strikes a catwalk is dead.
Given that reprieve, Zobrist coaxed a full-count walk. The Rays did not score in the inning, leaving the bases loaded as Buchholz struck out Longoria (changeup), Myers (two-seamer) and Matt Joyce (changeup). But it was a stressful inning, as Buchholz required 34 pitches to record three outs, and it may have caught up with him in the fifth, when the Rays tied the score.
Roberts redux: Quintin Berry, acquired from Kansas City in late August for just such an occasion, went in to run for Ortiz after the Sox DH drew a leadoff walk in the eighth. Berry took off on the second pitch to Mike Napoli from lefty reliever Jake McGee. Jose Molina’s throw was true, and second baseman Zobrist blocked Berry’s lead hand, his left, as he launched a headfirst dive into the bag. Zobrist’s glove tagged Berry’s back an instant before his hand reached the bag, but second-base umpire Mike Winters, who did not have the benefit of multiple replays, ruled him safe. Berry is now 27-for-27 in career stolen-base attempts.
The series, however, would not be decided on a disputed call. Napoli rolled out to short, and after an intentional walk to pinch hitter Jonny Gomes, McGee struck out Saltalamacchia and induced Stephen Drew to foul out.
Loney tunes: Rays first baseman James Loney reached base four times, on a double, two singles and a walk. He reached base on eight of nine plate appearances beginning with his eighth-inning walk in Game 1.