Red Sox well-versed in versatility

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The raucous scene, which included Boston Red Sox pitchers merrily tossing bullpen catcher Brian Abraham into a bucket of ice that only moments before had been emptied of the adult beverages stocked for such occasions, suggested otherwise.

But Jonny Gomes, his beard still holding droplets of champagne like ornaments on a Christmas tree, said there was more than meets the eye.

"This was not so much a celebration," he said, "as a deep breath. You talk about sleepless nights, and you can't do this, and you can't do that."

So far, of course, the 2013 season for the Red Sox has been all about what the Sox can do, which Tuesday night meant advancing to the American League Championship Series with a taut 3-1 win over Tampa Bay, the Rays eliminated three games to one in the AL Division Series. The Sox are returning to the ALCS for the first time since 2008, when they lost in seven games to the Rays under this same inflatable roof, a rookie named David Price recording the final out.

"Every part of us wanted to finish it here," said pitcher Jake Peavy, who screamed, scratched and spit his way through 5 2/3 innings but reluctantly came out of the game uncertain of its outcome, the Sox trailing 1-0 at the time of his departure.

"We didn't want to go back home and face David Price again," Peavy said. "Anything can happen in one game. These teams know each other so well. It was tough, I can tell you."

But only one team left Tropicana Field bound for Boston in the early hours of Wednesday morning, players' families in tow for the joyous plane ride back home and the ALCS, which opens Saturday in Fenway Park at a time yet to be determined. The Red Sox will face the winner of the Detroit-Oakland series, the Tigers and Athletics playing Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday.

That jubilant scrum you saw on the mound after Tuesday's game in the Trop, which commenced with Koji Uehara leaping into the arms of catcher David Ross after striking out Evan Longoria for the final out?

"It was like a family affair out there," Gomes said. "Not even teammates. Like family."

You don't see too many family gatherings like this, of course, outside of maybe an Amish barn-raising. But despite outward appearances, what separates this bunch from previous occupants of 4 Yawkey Way is not so much their whiskers but their capacity to show multiple faces.

"You're talking about a team that scored at least five runs more than any other team," Gomes said. "You're talking about a team that saw the most pitches, you saw a team that leads the AL in a lot of offensive categories, and tonight we won on a wild pitch. We won on a walk. That says a lot about our team. It has many ways to win. There's a resilience inside this clubhouse, 25 guys who are battle-tested."

In Boston, the Sox won Game 1 with a lineup in which every starter hit safely and scored, something that hadn't been done since the '36 Yankees of Gehrig, DiMaggio, Dickey and Lazzeri. They won Game 2 with David Ortiz hitting two home runs, the second home run the first of seven consecutive plate appearances in which Ortiz reached base.

But they won Game 4 with patience and speed, the patience displayed by 21-year-old rookie Xander Bogaerts, who worked a leadoff walk in the seventh inning and came around to score the tying run on a wild pitch, then walked again in the ninth and scored an insurance run on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.

The speed came from the top two spots in the Sox's lineup, as it has all season: Jacoby Ellsbury stealing second and continuing to third on Joel Peralta's wild pitch, then scoring as Shane Victorino beat out an infield chopper.

"It just shows you we can bang, and we can play the game right," Gomes said. "Leadoff walks, wild pitches, passing the torch, picking each other up."

Speed at the top in Ellsbury, Victorino and Pedroia. Power from Ortiz and Mike Napoli, and 17 home runs from the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, Will Middlebrooks. Versatility in Gomes and Daniel Nava and Mike Carp; and two catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ross, behind the plate for wins.

The Sox had 11 extra-base hits in the two wins in Boston. They had one extra-base hit in two games in the Trop -- Ellsbury's fifth-inning, ground-ball double in Game 3 -- and still took care of the Rays.

They were able to do so not only because of their ability to manufacture runs when they had to, but because they pitched. All four starters pitched into the sixth; Jon Lester pitched into the eighth. The concerns about the bullpen bridge to Uehara? Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa combined for six scoreless innings, Breslow striking out four in a row Tuesday night for only the second time in his career.

"Craig's been outstanding," Peavy said. "He's been a horse for us all year. We knew it was important to get him healthy down the stretch where he could do what he did tonight. He's a beast, and he showed it tonight."

That may be the first time in recorded history, by the way, that any Yale graduate with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry has been described as a "beast." The Sox took Wednesday off. They will return to the field Thursday for workouts, and will be well-rested for the ALCS. Manager John Farrell is expected to keep the same order in his rotation. Jon Lester will have seven days' rest before Game 1. John Lackey will have the same for Game 2. Victorino's bruises from being hit by pitches four times in this series will have time to heal. Napoli will get a respite from the needle-stabbing pain he feels in his foot.

And for everyone, a deep breath, for at least a couple of stress-free days. The challenge that lies ahead?

"The challenge is inside here," Gomes said, his eyes sweeping the clubhouse. "We're not going to switch our identity. We beat everyone already. Our style, our offense, defense, starting pitching, bullpen speaks for itself. We've just got to continue on."