Rays stave off elimination again in 5-4 win against Red Sox

Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4 - Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton and Boston Manager John Farrell talk about Lobaton's walk-off home run that kept Tampa Bay alive in the ALDS. Boston leads the series, 2-1.

ST. PETERSBURG — Happy Home Run Monday, everybody.

Four innings after Birthday Boy Evan Longoria hit a three-run homer off Clay Buchholz, substitute catcher Jose Lobaton drilled a two-out walk-off homer off Koji Uehara to keep the Tampa Bay Rays alive in the MLB postseason.

Tampa Bay's 5-4 victory reflected the mad scramble of a team fighting to stay alive, rallying after closer Fernando Rodney allowed the tying run to score in the top of the ninth.

"I hit the ball hard, and I said to myself, 'I think I got it,' '' Lobaton said.

Down 0-2 in the series against the Red Sox and facing yet another elimination contest, the Rays forced another matchup tonight at Tropicana Field with hopes of taking the American League Division Series back to Boston for a decisive fifth game on Thursday.

"This thing is even more dramatic [than the others this week]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "What an incredible day for the Rays. It was an incredible game to participate in."

Credit Longoria for lifting the Rays out of their listless slumber against the Red Sox. He celebrated accordingly, with a bash and a bang in the fifth inning that erased what had been an easy evening for Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.

Longoria became just the second player in postseason baseball history to hit a home run on his birthday, joining Willie Mays Aikens (1980, Kansas City Royals).

"We need that badly," Maddon said. "Everybody is going to look to that guy to lead, and he did. He got us back in the race."

Some would say the Rays were just giddy to be playing baseball Monday night. They ran through a gantlet of lose-or-go-home elimination games on the road. First Toronto, then Texas and then Cleveland.

But this isn't a Little League deal where everybody gets a pat on the back and the manager takes everybody out for ice cream at Bruster's.

"Of course you do want to win the final prize. There's no question about that," Maddon said before the game.

"In the latter part of the season, in a short series, sometimes the matchups are tough and sometimes they don't just roll your way.

"But I really hope and believe that the people in the Tampa Bay area would not frown upon 90-plus wins on an annual basis and a bunch of guys who come out and play with the kind of zeal our guys do on a nightly basis."

My guess is that most of the sellout crowd of 33,675 would concur.

The Rays have been in the playoffs four of the last six seasons despite a constant revolving-door of players, given their small-market economics. The Rays have advanced to the World Series once, in 2008.

"I think I read it at some point — and I do read once in a while — that we were a punching bag for awhile," Maddon said before the game. "And eventually we stopped being their [the Red Sox] punching bag, or the Yankees' punching bag."

The Rays' narrative has been pretty much the same for the last five or six years:

They play in a dumpy place called the Trop in which fly balls can disappear into a catwalk, not exactly the way Abner Doubleday drew it up in urban-legend land back in the day. Their fans can be very finicky about showing up to watch them play in such a place with so many empty seats on any given night.

Not Monday.

If some of the fans are Johnny-Come-Latelys, or even those rooting for the Sox, the thing is this place was rockin' Monday night.

A little more cowbell, please.

It's time to make some more noise, and give Longoria a birthday shout-out while we're at it.

There will be baseball one more day in St. Pete.

gdiaz@tribune.com Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego

 

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