Boston will play either the Oakland Athletics or Detroit Tigers starting Saturday at Fenway Park. The A’s and Tigers will play a deciding Game 5 of their American League Divisional Series Thursday in Oakland.
Game 4 of this series had all the intensity of a winner-take-all.
Rays manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen in the second inning after starter Jeremy Hellickson loaded the bases with two walks and a single with nobody out. That would be the harbinger of things to come.
Maddon eventually would use nine pitchers, and had Game 5 starter David Price warming in the pen in the ninth, in an effort to keep Red Sox hitters guessing and off the scoreboard. For 6.2 innings, the strategy worked.
It was Tampa, though, that scored first.
With one out and Yunel Escobar on third, David DeJesus singled him home on a liner to right. One batter later, Red Sox skipper John Farrell pulled starter Jake Peavy after 74 pitches and the bullpen game was on.
In retrospect, it may have been the best decision of the night.
Craig Breslow was brilliant, striking out four straight and getting five consecutive outs before Escobar singled with one out in the eighth.
By that time, Boston had the lead.
Maddon’s handling of the bullpen had been magical until the seventh. Boston would put runners on base then could not move them. Timely double plays or strikeouts saw the Sox strand nine through six, but Maddon’s magic ran out in the seventh.
After explaining to anyone who would listen earlier why pinch-hitting Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew against left-handed pitchers was not going to happen, Farrell did just that with one out in the inning, a move that won Boston the series.
Bogaerts walked off Jake McGee. After Will Middlebrooks fanned, Jacoby Ellsbury singled to right allowing Bogaerts to take an extra base.
Ellsbury, who had an excellent series, took off to steal second. His single caused Maddon to go back to the pen, this time for Joel Peralta. Peralta’s pitched missed everything and Bogaerts scored the tying run as Ellsbury ended up on third.
The score would remain 2-1 until the ninth.
Maddon, trying desperately to hang on, brought closer Fernando Rodney out to hold Boston at bay. Instead, Rodney could not find the strike zone. He walked Bogaerts and Ellsbury around a Middlebrooks strikeout before plunking Victorino to load the bases.
Maddon saw enough and pulled his horse for Chris Archer. Archer surrendered a deep fly ball to right from Dustin Pedroia and that allowed Bogaerts to score easily.
Each manager rolled the dice several times making decisions and Farrell ended up with the better results.
The reward for Boston is their first trip to the ALCS since 2008 and three welcome days to prepare.
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