The Red Sox walked off over the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday afternoon on one of the more bizarre final plays you'll see: a ground ball single from Shane Victorino that never left the five-man infield, scoring Jacoby Ellsbury from third.
Long before the heroics of Ellsbury and Victorino, however, it was Jon Lester keeping the Red Sox alive against an impressive David Price. Initially it was a bit sketchy for Boston's top starter. While he escaped the first and second without giving up any runs, generally lengthy at bats and a few baserunners drove his pitch count up, and gave the appearance that he was toeing a precarious line.
In the third inning, Lester wouldn't quite manage his timely escape. A leadoff single from Desmond Jennings proved costly when Sean Rodriguez hit a line drive into left field which took some bad bounces, forcing Daniel Nava to dig it out from the corner and allowing Jennings to run home to score the first run of the game.
Mike Napoli would end up saving Lester from even more harm in the inning by making a diving stop on a sharp hit from Ben Zobrist, but after that Lester took over himself. The next ten batters would fail to reach base against Lester, with a leadoff single in the seventh leading directly into a double play.
Where Lester got better, however, Price started to falter as the game went on. The Red Sox would go without any runs through the first four innings, but when David Ross stepped to the plate in the fifth, that all changed. After grinding out a full count, Ross saw a seventh-pitch changeup and put a big swing on it, clearing the Monster in eft, and knotting the game up at 1-1.
Neither team's bullpen would make the ninth inning a simple proposition. Joel Hanrahan was the first to struggle, once again showing a lack of control, walking Evan Longoria on four pitches, and then taking eight pitches to offer up the same free pass to Ben Zobrist.
This time, though, John Farrell was not going to let the game slip away from him with his clearly struggling closer on the mound. Instead, he turned to Koji Uehara, who he had warming up behind Hanrahan from early on. Like clockwork, nine pitches later and Uehara had worked his magic once again, saving the Red Sox from a precarious position.
Meanwhile, it was a trio of relievers struggling to get through three outs for the Rays. Kyle Farnsworth got through the first two batters, but Joe Maddon elected to go to a lefty to face Daniel Nava. The result: a single dropped into right. Then he turned to Brandon Gomes to take on Jonny Gomes, and once again, the results were not what he wanted, with one Gomes walking the other. In the end, though, the Rays would escape when Stephen Drew hit a line drive to center. It was well-hit, but poorly placed, with Desmond Jennings perfectly placed to make the out.
The Rays would once again threaten in the tenth after a leadoff double from Jose Molina, but Junichi Tazawa proved up to the task of getting out of it, giving the Red Sox another chance to walk off.
This time they didn't waste it.
While Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out to start the bottom half of the frame, Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a single back up the middle. Once on first, he allowed his speed to take over. With Shane Victorino at the plate, Ellsbury took off for second, and then headed straight to third when Jose Lobaton's throw tailed away from Yunel Escobar and into right field.
Now with Ellsbury at third and just one out, all the Red Sox needed was a fy ball. With that in mind, Joe Maddon called in Matt Joyce to give the Rays a fifth infielder. Victorino adapted to the situation...by hitting a ground ball into the reinforced right side. With the ball not headed right towards any one infielder, however, indecision took over. Neither man made a strong play for the ball, and in the end Yunel Escobar made a late, half-hearted throw to first--seemingly just to deny Victorino of a walkoff hit in favor of a walkoff fielder's choice--while Ellsbury ran home and the celebration started at both plates.
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