As expected, the Boston Red Sox, even after losing Game 3 to the Tampa Bay Rays, had little cause for concern. Clearly the superior team throughout the series, all the Red Sox had to do was bide their time and take advantage of the opportunities they knew would be there, which is exactly what they did in defeating the Rays 3-1 Tuesday night. Their overall performance, at least from the offense, might not have been overwhelming, but it was certainly good enough in dispatching a team that threw the kitchen sink of pitching against them.
Eight different Rays pitchers took the mound on Tuesday looking to keep the Red Sox offense in check, but not all of them had equal amounts of success. Against four pitchers in particular, the Red Sox were able to put themselves in advantageous positions even if the team did not always score the maximum amount of runs their base runners and outs situations suggested they should.
The first threat by the Red Sox occurred in the second inning and resulted in Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson getting the quick hook. After being set down in order in the first inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases in the second inning with no outs before Hellickson was replaced by Rays reliever Jamey Wright.
Wright, facing his first batter of the night, proved up to the task of pitching in one of the highest-leveraged situations a pitcher in which a pitcher will find himself; the score was still 0-0 at that point in the game. He struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia in five pitches to record the first out of the inning.
Then the Rays defense, after so many defensive mistakes throughout the series, put on an incredible display of efficiency after Wright's second batter faced, Stephen Drew, put the ball in play. Rays first baseman James Loney turned a quick double play that kept the Red Sox scoreless in an where the offense had built up to a run expectancy high of 2.20 runs.
But stopping the Red Sox offense in the second inning did nothing to stem the tide of run-scoring opportunities arising from the above-average rate at which the Red Sox hitters got on base in the game; the club finished with an on-base percentage of .407.
Back at it in the seventh inning after the Rays had gone up 1-0 thanks to a David Dejesus RBI single in the sixth inning, the Red Sox were able to get more runners in scoring position. Facing Rays pitcher Jake McGee, Xander Bogaerts drew a walk and then advanced to third base after a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, giving the Red Sox runners on first and third bases with two outs.
Although not the sort of situation that lends itself to scoring multiple runs, the Red Sox were gift-wrapped a couple of runs by Joel Peralta, who was called upon to relieve McGee subsequent to the Ellsbury single. A wild pitch by Peralta then allowed Bogaerts to score from third and Ellsbury to move from first to third base. Completing the gift wrapping by putting a bow on top, Peralta conceded an RBI single to Shane Victorino to grant the Red Sox a 2-1 edge.
Completing the trilogy of run-scoring opportunities, with the second and third installments being much more successful than the first, was the performance of the Red Sox in the ninth inning. Just like in Game 3, the Red Sox benefited from the wild pitching of Rays reliever Fernando Rodney. Rodney walked Xander Bogaerts and Jacoby Ellsbury and followed that ineffective display of pitching by hitting Shane Victorino, loading the bases with one out; Rodney only recorded one out in his appearance, striking out Will Middlebrooks, a feat that is particularly difficult not to accomplish.
Rodney was removed from the contest in favor of Rays reliever Chris Archer, but he had set the table so nicely for the Red Sox to score it was no surprise that they did complete their run-scoring meal even after his departure. Dustin Pedroia, the first batter Archer faced, hit a sacrifice fly to give the Red Sox a 3-1 lead.
Making sure the three runs the Red Sox offense scored stood up was the stellar pitching by Jake Peavy, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara. The four pitchers combined to completely shut down any semblance of a Rays offense, holding the opposing batters to a pitiful batting line of .194 BA/.194 OBP/.226 SLG with a .184 wOBA.
The two pitching stars of the contest were relievers Breslow and Uehara, who were at the top of their pitching games on Tuesday. Breslow struck out the four of the six batters he faced and only gave up one hit during his outing; it was a dominating performance made all the more impressive because it came at a time when the Red Sox were trying to protect a slim 2-1 lead, meaning Breslow was pitching in high-leverage situations.
Uehara was also brilliant as he closed out the game for the Red Sox. Four Rays batters stepped into the plate against Uehara and all trudged back to the dugout without getting on base. It was a return by Uehara to his unhittable ways and it propelled the Red Sox to the next round of the playoffs.
Next round, the Red Sox will be facing a higher quality of opponent so might struggle a bit more to win the American League Championship Series, but they did nothing in the American League Division Series to dispel the notion that they are the best team in the major leagues.