Red Sox advance to ALCS, end Rays season
ST. PETERSBURG — Perhaps Tampa Bay’s luck, after winning four straight elimination games, ran out.
Or maybe the talent and cohesiveness Boston displayed throughout the season proved to be too much.
Whatever the reason, the Rays’ season came to a close on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. The Red Sox rallied to win Game 4 of their American League Division Series 3-1, the clincher in a best-of-five series that the Red Sox also won 3-1.
“I don’t want to be a cliché, but there’s nothing to hang our heads about,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “ We hit some really good moments and some really bad moments, but at the end of the day you still win 92 games, that’s pretty good. Retrospectively, we didn’t get where we wanted to get, but cannot be more proud or pleased with our group.”
It was fitting the game changed on a small play in the seventh inning — the kind that seemed to go Boston’s way throughout the series.
“They didn’t make any mistakes, you could see their grit,” Maddon said. “I talked about from spring training on, I think they’ve really promoted the character within that group, and they’re just gamers, they’ve got a bunch of gamers over there.”
Up 1-0, Jake McGee earned a quick flyout by Jonny Gomes but walked phenom Xander Bogaerts. Will Middlebrooks struck out to put Tampa Bay in position to escape, but Jacoby Ellsbury singled to put runners on the corners.
Maddon called on Joel Peralta out of the bullpen, one of the best setup men in baseball, but the right-hander threw a ball in the dirt to Shane Victorino that catcher Jose Lobaton couldn’t corral.
“I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see the ball,” Peralta said of Lobaton. “The bat was in his way. I would throw the same pitch in the same situation, and I know he would block it.”
The pitch allowed Bogaerts to score and Ellsbury to reach third as he was already attempting to steal second.
Victorino, who hit .429 in the series, then legged out an infield single against Peralta that scored Ellsbury for the decisive blow.
If the Rays were to have any chance to respond, the next half inning against Boston’s Craig Breslow figured to be their best bet.
Instead, Breslow struck out Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist — on a pitch that appeared to be outside the strike zone that led to words with home plate umpire Paul Emmel — and Desmond Jennings.
The lack of offense was the Rays undoing throughout the series, scoring just 12 runs in the series.
“We can’t match up with their pitching,” Maddon said. “That’s been the downfall this year, the fact that we cannot hit that group.”
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara worked a scoreless 1 1/3 innings to convert the save, a day after allowing a walk-off homer by Jose Lobaton.
Until the seventh, the game seemed to be going Tampa Bay’s way in typical Rays fashion: unconventionally.
Maddon, thanks in large parts to starter Jeremy Hellickson’s tense second inning, used four pitchers to get through the first three innings.
Jamey Wright and Matt Moore both benefitted from clutch double plays while Alex Torres put the Rays in position to use a McGee-Peralta-Fernando Rodney combo to close out the game after the offense provided a run in the bottom of the sixth.
That came when Yunel Escobar led off the inning with a double. Lobaton grounded out but moved Escobar to third, and David DeJesus singled him home to make it 1-0.
But it was not to be.
The loud crowd that brought the Trop to life the last two days left deflated and without a chance to expel any remaining energy that would have surely surged again, like the orange glow that lights up the stadium’s roof after a win.
Instead, it was lights out.