You knew somewhere deep inside of you that all hope was lost. It didn’t make sense–the Rays had four more innings to work with–but the sense of impending doom was setting in and we all were mentally preparing for the Rays’ season to end. David DeJesus‘ double gave the Rays second and third with one out down by three runs, but Ben Zobrist had popped out, bringing Evan Longoria to the plate. Longoria was the tying run, but Rays didn’t think about that. They thought about the missed opportunities, the bases loaded situation they had squandered the prior inning and the two times they failed to get Jacoby Ellsbury out, one abetted by the umpire and another by a poor throw to the plate from Jose Molina. They thought about Longoria’s last at-bat, when he missed a series of mistake pitches from Clay Buchholz before striking out on a changeup. It was clear in our minds that Longoria was going to get out and the Rays’ collapse would be an inning closer to completion. We wanted to be optimistic, but it seemed impossible. And then it happened. Buchholz threw Longoria another changeup and Longoria drilled it into the left field seats for a game-tying three-run home runs. The Rays had tied the game at three runs apiece.
In the ninth inning, with the Rays ahead 4-3, in came Fernando Rodney for his first postseason save, and every Rays fan felt the chills. Postseason is hard enough if you’re not named Mariano Rivera–and even if you are–and Rodney, while he had pitched well this season, was not exactly the most reliable pitcher in the world. Our fears were realized when Rodney simply could not throw a strike to begin his outing, walking Will Middlebrooks before allowing a Jacoby Ellsbury bloop single when he finally threw a strike. After Shane Victorino bunted the runners to second and third, Joe Maddon elected to play the infield back, willing to allow the tying run but not a two-run single that would put the Rays three outs away from the end of their season. Rodney proceeded to get Dustin Pedroia to ground out, and what could have been a play at the plate turned into a simple groundout as the game was tied at 4. Rodney escaped the jam, but the concern did not go away. The reason was simple: the Rays were going to have the pitcher’s spot due up.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, Wil Myers appeared to cramp up during his at-bat against Junichi Tazawa, and Myers had to leave the game. To replace him, the Rays elected to use Matt Joyce, who up until that point had been the designated hitter in the game. The maneuver allowed the Rays to save Sam Fuld and Kelly Johnson on the best but forced them to give up the DH and have the pitcher’s spot bat the rest of the game. After Fuld was used as a pinch-runner, though, the Rays were left with only Johnson to pinch-hit for the pitcher. For the remainder of the game, the Rays would be playing eight hitters against Boston’s nine, and the Red Sox’ lineup was regarded as being stronger to begin with. The way Koji Uehara was throwing the ball in the 9th, it seemed like that would be a major factor.
Uehara needed just one pitches to retire Ben Zobrist, and two offerings later, Evan Longoria was out as well. The Red Sox’ dominant closer was rolling again, and the Rays would have to deal with him for the next one or two innings as well as they struggled to hold down the Boston offense. If that scenario arose, the Rasy seemed like a sure bet to lose. The Rays’ last hope before that occurred was Jose Lobaton, who entered the game defensively in the top of the ninth after Delmon Young had pinch-hit for Jose Molina. Lobaton had a knack for clutch hits with the Rays this season, but Uehara was in thorough control and had sent two of the Rays’ best hitters down with ease. But crazy things happen in the postseason. Lobaton went up to the plate looking for Uehara’s splitter, and on the 0-1 pitch, he got a good one down and away. But somehow Lobaton reached out and drilled it towards right-center, and it left the yard for a walk-off home run, the first playoff walk-off homer in Rays history. The timing could not have been any better.
The Rays are alive. On Thursday, they will send Jeremy Hellickson to the mound against Jake Peavy with the opportunity to force a decisive Game 5 with a victory. Monday saw the Rays use all the playoff magic they could muster. Do they have anything left in the tank?