In their first bid to close out the American League Division Series, the Boston Red Sox came up short, falling to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in Monday's contest. The loss prevented the Red Sox from sweeping their opponent and giving themselves a break before a break to get their pitching staff in order before the American League Championship Series. Now, the Red Sox will have to get back on the field on Tuesday to see if they can accomplish what they failed to do on Monday.
Before the game took some unexpected turns, it looked like the Red Sox might, once again, defeat the Rays comfortably. For the third straight game, the Red Sox benefited from Rays' defensive miscues that basically gifted them runs. In the first inning, the Red Sox pushed across a run after a throwing error by Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, giving them a 1-0 lead. Their second run, scored in the fifth inning, also was the result of a failure of the Rays to execute the fundamentals, with Shane Victorino scoring from third after a wild pitch by Rays starter Alex Cobb.
It was not until their third run of the game, which also came in the fifth inning off an RBI single by David Ortiz, where one could state with confidence that the Red Sox offense deserved the full credit. With the joint effort between the Red Sox and the Rays, the Red Sox's 3-0 lead gave them a win expectancy of 84.8 percent by the end of the top of the fifth inning.
The two previous games in the series saw the Red Sox hold leads with little difficulty. Once the Red Sox established a lead in Games 1 and 2, the games were pretty much over with the Rays unable to mount a comeback of any consequence.
Such was not the case on Monday, however, as the Red Sox only held their lead for the first half of the game before starting pitcher Clay Buchholz played a part in letting it slip through the team's fingers. Buchholz's fifth-inning struggles actually began in the fourth inning when the first chinks in his pitching armor appeared. After battling back from issuing a leadoff walk to striking out the next two batters, Buchholz then allowed a single to James Loney and walked Desmond Jennings, thus loading the bases. But Buchholz rallied again to strike out Matt Joyce and prevent the Rays from scoring.
Buchholz proved to be a lot less effective in getting out of jams in the fifth inning, however. With men on second and third bases and two outs, Buchholz gave up a home run to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria that tied the score at 3-3.
There, the score remained until the eighth inning that saw Red Sox relievers Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman display an admirable amount of teamwork in giving up a run to the Rays. Morales started off the project to give the game to the Rays by walking and giving up a single to the first two batters he faced; the third batter he faced fouled out to the catcher. Workman then took the project Morales was unable to finish since Morales was removed from the game and brought it to its conclusion. He allowed a single that loaded the bases and an RBI groundout from Delmon Young that gave the Rays a 4-3 lead.
Armed with a ninth-inning lead that should have been secure, judging by their win expectancy of 86.1 percent, the Rays brought in mercurial closer Fernando Rodney, who ended up doing mercurial things like walking and conceding a single to the first two batters he faced. A Shane Victorino bunt moved the runners to second and third base, giving Dustin Pedroia the opportunity to knock in the tying run with a ground out to the shortstop.
The tie between the two teams did not have much of a shelf life, though. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who has been almost unhittable this season, made an uncharacteristic error with his pitching. Uehara retired the first two batters of the inning with no problem, only needing three pitches to do so, but on his fifth pitch of the inning, he served up a walk-off home run to Jose Lobaton that changed Game 4 from if necessary to necessary.
Still, there is nothing for the Red Sox to be overly concerned about. They are still the better team and should still eliminate the Rays from the postseason. Accomplishing that task will just take one more game than they might have liked.