ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — John Farrell expressed no concern about his team minutes after as tough a defeat as a team can have.
“We’ll be here ready to go,” the Red Sox manager said late Monday night after his team gave up a three-run lead mid-game, then got beat on a bottom-of-the-ninth homer. “Our guys have a very strong ability to put this one behind us.”
The Red Sox did and, in doing so, finally put behind them baseball’s team that until Tuesday night had refused to die.
Rallying late, the Red Sox scored twice in the seventh to take down the Rays, 3-1, in front of a sellout crowd of 32,807 at Tropicana Field to advance to the ALCS.
“This wasn’t going to be an easy series,” said Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow, a New Haven native who was part of a stellar effort by the Boston bullpen. “We’re fortunate to not have this series go all five games.”
Game 1 of the ALCS will be Saturday at Fenway Park against the winner of Game 5 of the Tigers/Athletics series.
Boston got a standout outing from Jake Peavy (one run and five hits in 52/3 innings) and tremendous work from its bullpen, Breslow in particular. Breslow came on with two outs in the sixth and struck out the first four batters he faced.
Koji Uehara, who allowed Jose Lobaton’s game-winning homer Monday night, came on with two outs in the eighth and was perfect the rest of the way in recording the save.
“They were really good, they didn’t make any mistakes,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team tallied a combined nine runs in the series. “They’ve got a bunch of gamers over there. On the other side, I think our guys were equally tough. We just have had a hard time hitting their pitching staff.”
The Red Sox trailed 1-0 in the seventh but scored twice against the Rays’ fifth pitcher of the night, lefthander Jake McGee. Tampa used nine pitchers after starter Jeremy Hellickson lasted just one inning and had Game 5 starter David Price warming up in the bottom of the ninth in case of a rally.
Hellickson came in 2-7 with a 7.15 ERA in his previous 11 appearances (10 starts) and to say Maddon had a short leash with the righthander is an understatement.
Hellickson, after a scoreless first, threw eight straight balls to start the second inning, walking David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. He threw a strike to Daniel Nava before the leftfielder lined his next pitch to right for a single that loaded the bases for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
With the catcher 8-for-25 in his career against Hellickson, Maddon made the move to Jamey Wright.
“I could see it was just not going to work,” said Maddon, who planned to piece things together all game, though not that early.
Wright got Saltalamacchia looking at a called third strike, then saw Stephen Drew, a potential target this offseason for the Yankees, line one that had double written all over it. But first baseman James Loney stabbed the liner, then threw to second to double off Napoli to end the inning and further ignite the crowd that was boisterous all night.
“It kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Farrell said of the double play. “But the one thing this team has done throughout the course of this season is continue to build opportunities.”
The Red Sox finally broke through in the seventh, tying it on a wild pitch and getting the go-ahead run when Shane Victorino beat out a chopper to short, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury (9-for-18 in the series) to score to make it 2-1.
“We knew it was going to be a tough series for us,” Victorino said. “We’re glad to be moving on. Whatever it takes.”