ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Joe Maddon looked at the assembled media late Monday night and smiled. "How about that for a finish?" the Rays' manager asked, not expecting or needing a response.
Maddon's club has proven impossible to finish off in the last 1½ weeks. The Rays somehow managed to extend their season again, this time with a 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 3 of their American League Division Series in front of a sellout crowd of 33,675 at Tropicana Field.
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Jose Lobaton came through with the Rays' second big homer of the night, smashing a solo shot over the right-centerfield wall and into the Rays' giant fish tank (featuring cownose rays) with two outs in the ninth off Boston's hard-to-hit closer, Koji Uehara.
"What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with," Maddon said, as only he can.
Game 4 is Tuesday night at 8.37 at Tropicana Field.
The first blast came from Evan Longoria with two outs in the fifth, a three-run shot off Clay Buchholz that tied the score at 3-3. "The energy came back," Lobaton said of Longoria's homer. "Everybody was kind of like, we've got a chance now."
The Rays took the lead in the eighth on pinch hitter Delmon Young's RBI groundout with the bases loaded, but Boston tied it in the ninth against the Rays' erratic closer, Fernando Rodney.
Rodney shoots an imaginary arrow into the air after successful saves. This time he nearly shot an arrow through his team's collective heart.
Rodney walked No. 9 hitter Will Middlebrooks to start the inning and, after Xander Bogaerts pinch ran, Jacoby Ellsbury improved to 8-for-14 in the series when he chipped a single into short leftfield. Shane Victorino's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners and Dustin Pedroia's groundout to short, with the infield playing back, tied it at 4-4.
But the Rays shrugged off the misfortune, something they've had experience with of late.
It was the fourth straight elimination game they survived, having beaten the Blue Jays in the regular-season finale, the Rangers in the play-in game and the Indians in the wild-card game. Said Longoria, "We all understand that we have our backs against the wall. And it seems like those moments have been fueling us."
It was somewhat surprising that Longoria was given a chance to play as big a role as he did Monday night. Red Sox manager John Farrell elected to have Buchholz pitch to him with runners at second and third and two outs instead of intentionally walking him to get to Wil Myers (0-for-12 in the series), who left the game in the eighth because of cramping in his legs.
Longoria, who took a called third strike on a changeup from Buchholz for the first out of the fourth with a runner aboard, saw the same pitch in the fifth and didn't miss it, golfing the righthander's 0-and-1 delivery into the seats in left.
"Every time I try and think that , it never works out," said Longoria, who turned 28 Monday and became one of two players, along with Willie Mays Aikens of the 1980 Royals, to hit a home run in a postseason game on his birthday. "I was really just trying to hit something up the middle."
Farrell said he didn't second-guess himself. "No, not to bring the go-ahead run to the plate," he said. "No consideration of walking him."
Buchholz, 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, did not allow a run in two regular-season starts against the Rays.
"I'm sure there's an attitude they have nothing to lose and just let it all hang out," Farrell said of the Rays. "We have tremendous respect for them and we know it will be a very similar game tomorrow night."