The Tampa Bay Rays staved off elimination on the final day of the regular season, in the tiebreaker win over the Rangers, in the wild-card victory over the Indians, and now they’ve remained alive in the most dramatic of fashions, blowing a ninth-inning lead only to see backup catcher Jose Lobaton crush a walk-off home run off Koji Uehara in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 5-4 win over the Red Sox.
Uehara had allowed just one run and 10 hits over his past 38 innings.
Lobaton had nine career home runs.
The ball landed in the Rays Tank in right-center, a literal splash of a home run.
It's crazy, this sport.
The Rays have had a grueling stretch. They ended the regular season last Sunday in Toronto. On Monday, they were in Texas for the tiebreaker game. On Wednesday, they were in Cleveland. On Friday, they were in Boston, and perhaps that travel schedule caught up to them in 12-2 and 7-4 losses. On Monday, they were back in Tampa/St. Pete for the first time since September 23, two weeks ago.
The fans saw an intense, hard-fought playoff game, with runners everywhere, a huge three-run, game-tying home run by Evan Longoria, Red Sox manager John Farrell oddly burning through his two best setup guys in the seventh inning, some mistakes, some bunts (yes, the sabermetrically-inclined Red Sox and Rays, both bunting!), the Rays taking the lead the eighth inning, Fernando Rodney giving it up -- it all reminded me of the Pete Rose quote from the famous Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, when he turned to Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk when batting in the 10th inning and said, "This is some kind of game, isn’t it?"
I'm not sure if Lobaton uttered those words to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he could have: It was some kind of game. People like to say baseball is dying, that nobody cares anymore. I'm sure there will be headlines on Tuesday morning pointing out the Monday night NFL game between the Jets and Falcons drew higher TV ratings than any of the four baseball games on Monday.
To which I say: So what? You're missing great baseball if you're not watching.
We could dissect this game a lot of ways, but the big blow was Longoria's home run off Clay Buchholz in the fifth inning. Buchholz had battled through a 34-pitch fourth inning, and while he escaped any damage when he fanned Matt Joyce with the bases loaded, you're always worried about what happens after an inning like that with so many pitches.
It appeared as if that inning did take a little something out of Buchholz. He'd hit 94 mph on his four-seam fastball in the fourth, but only threw two fastballs over 91 in the fifth. He gave up an infield hit to Yunel Escobar and with one out David DeJesus doubled. He got Ben Zobrist to pop out for the second out, but he had fallen behind three of those four hitters.
So that brought up Longoria, no stranger to big home runs in his career. Buchholz revved up his first offering to Longoria at 92, but Longoria just missed it and fouled it off. Buchholz wasn't going to go fastball again; he came back with a changeup. It's been a money pitch for him this season; he throws it about 12 times a game and hitters had batted just .158 against without a home run. But this pitch didn't move it all; it stayed straight, low and in, and Longoria golfed it into the third row of the left-field seats. With a base open and rookie Wil Myers on deck, you can debate the wisdom of giving Longoria anything to hit there, but I'd surmise that Buchholz was already running on fumes and just wanted to get out of the inning without facing another hitter.
As for Lobaton, he was in the game after Joe Maddon had pinch hit for Jose Molina in the eighth (Delmon Young drove in the go-ahead run with an infield groundout). But Maddon had made an astute double switch: He'd lost his DH before the eighth inning after Myers left with leg cramps and moved Matt Joyce from DH to right field. Jake McGee, who pitched the eighth, had been hitting in Myers' spot in the order, so when Rodney and Lobaton entered in the ninth, Maddon put Lobaton in the fifth spot (due up third) and Rodney in the ninth spot.
Uehara's 0-1 pitch to Lobaton was his deadly splitter, on which he'd allowed just 13 hits in 146 at-bats all season. This one wasn't in a bad location -- right at the bottom of the knees -- but it didn't have a much sink to it and Lobaton crushed it.
See you on Tuesday.