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Rays

Lobaton's walk-off homer keeps Rays alive

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Published:   |   Updated: October 8, 2013 at 06:54 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — They don't do anything easy, these Tampa Bay Rays.

They lose the first two games of this best-of-5 American League Division Series to the rival Boston Red Sox. They fall behind 3-0 in Game 3 against a pitcher who hadn't allowed a run to them this season. Closer Fernando Rodney blows another save.

Naturally, it all added up to a victory.

Jose Lobaton hit a two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, Boston's nearly unhittable closer, and the Rays fought off elimination once again with a 5-4 victory in front of 33,675 Monday night at Tropicana Field.

“We've been through a lot of stuff around here,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “This one is right at the top.”

The Rays face elimination tonight in Game 4 for the fifth time in their last seven games. They are 4-0.

“We don't want to lose,” said Lobaton, whose drive was deflected by a fan wearing a Dan Johnson jersey and splashed down in the touch tank behind the center field wall to touch off another walk-off celebration at the Trop, the 14th this season.

It was also the first time a Rays batter has reached the touch tank. Lobaton joined Luis Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera as the only hitters to have reached the touch tank.

“It's the ice cream,” Lobaton said.

It's part of a Rays ritual: Lobaton homers or wins a game with a walk-off hit and it's free ice cream for the catcher.

“I don't think there's enough ice cream in the world for Lobaton tonight,” Maddon said as he headed to the interview room after the win.

Lobaton's homer was set up by the ineffectiveness of Rodney, who couldn't hold a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning.

Rodney's opportunity was set up by Delmon Young's RBI grounder to first base with the bases loaded in the eighth inning that scored pinch-runner Sam Fuld.

Evan Longoria, celebrating his 28th birthday, made all that possible with a three-run homer in the fifth inning off Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, whose scoreless streak this season against the Rays had reached 17 innings before Longoria's at-bat. It was Longoria's ninth postseason home run, extending his club record.

“Evan got us back in the game with that homer, and we climbed aboard after that,” Maddon said. “The boulder was rolling downhill and we had to keep pushing it. Evan always seems to be the guy that's pushing on that boulder for us.

“He's just so much about moments like this.”

So, too, are his teammates.

Alex Cobb, who said he didn't want to be the pitcher who sent the Rays into the offseason, pitched five gritty innings. Pitching on his 26th birthday, Cobb allowed three runs (two earned) to a team that roughed up Matt Moore and David Price on their way to 19 runs in the series' first two games.

There was Desmond Jennings, whose bunt single was a key moment in the eighth inning, and Yunel Escobar, who kept that inning alive and loaded the bases with an infield single.

There was Alex Torres, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta, who came out of the bullpen and kept the Red Sox bats at in check for three innings.

“We're not going to give up. We believe in ourselves,” said James Loney, who had three hits himself and drew the leadoff walk in the eighth inning that enabled the Rays to take a 4-3 lead, however briefly.

Uehara, who came on for the ninth inning, allowed one earned run in his final 37 regular season appearances. He retired all three Rays he faced in Game 2, needing 11 pitches - all strikes.

Lobaton homered on the second pitch of his at-bat, only the fifth pitch for Uehara.

“It's definitely going to be a big momentum shifter in our clubhouse,” Cobb said.

Maddon said he wasn't looking as Lobaton swung at an elevated splitter - he was checking his lineup card, planning his next move. Maddon gave up the designated hitter when Wil Myers left with cramps and was replaced in right field by Matt Joyce, who began the game as the DH. Maddon said he expects Myers to play tonight.

Lobaton was batting in the cleanup spot left vacant by Myers. He entered the game in the ninth because Young pinch-hit for Jose Molina in the eighth.

Maddon wasn't aware the game was about to end, he said, until he heard the roar from the crowd.

“(I) look up and the ball is going towards the tank, which nobody hits home runs there. Nobody does. How about that? It's incredible,” Maddon said.

“Jose does have a flair for the dramatic. He's done that a couple of times now. A walk-off triple, two walk-off homers. It's incredible what he's done. What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with.”

Noteworthy

It was the Rays' first postseason victory at Tropicana Field since Game 2 of the 2008 World Series ... It was their second walk-off win in the playoffs. The first was Game 2 of the 2008 American League Division Series against the Red Sox ... Cobb remained undefeated this season at the Trop ... It was fourth time the Red Sox lost a postseason game on a home run. The last was Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to Aaron Boone and the Yankees.

 

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO.

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