Jose Lobaton had just one word when asked after the game on the TBS broadcast what he thought as his game-winning home run was sailing over the Tropicana Field fence.
The Tampa Bay Rays catcher hit a solo walk-off shot off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in the ninth inning, keeping his team's ALCS hopes alive with a 5-4 win on Monday night.
Lobaton's hit came with two outs, after Uehara had sent down the two hitters who were supposed to be his biggest threats in the ninth, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. The Red Sox closer grooved a fastball right over the upper half of the plate, though, and Lobaton hit it over the right-center fence to give the Rays their first postseason walk-off homer in franchise history.
Tampa Bay now sits at a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five series. The two teams will return to Tropicana Field on Tuesday, where Jeremy Hellickson will try to out-duel Red Sox starter Jake Peavy.
Lobaton's clutch moment ended a four-hour, 19-minute marathon. It also came just minutes after Rays closer Fernando Rodney put his team's chances in jeopardy.
Taking the mound with a 4-3 lead, Rodney instantly got himself into trouble due to control issues. He walked Will Middlebrooks, then Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a sky-high bloop single and Shane Victorino sacrificed them both into scoring position.
Dustin Pedroia then drove in pinch runner Xander Bogaerts, continuing Rodney's struggles against the AL East rival. Rodney had a 6.75 ERA in seven appearances against Boston in the regular season.
In a game where the two sides stayed deadlocked throughout, both bullpens spent the final two innings putting strain on their lineups.
After Boston reliever Franklin Morales walked Sam Fuld to open the eighth inning, Desmond Jennings attempted a bunt to get his teammate into scoring position. Morales and first baseman Mike Napoli both rushed to field the ball, leaving first base open as Pedroia unsuccessfully attempted to race over in time to cover. Delmon Young would later put the Rays ahead 4-3 on a fielder's choice that would have been the third out of the inning without the miscue.
The Rays got in that position initially thanks to a less than stellar night from starter Alex Cobb.
Struggling with his location, Cobb dug himself an early hole. He allowed a hit to Ellsbury then plunked Victorino to open the first inning, the former scoring the game's opening run on Pedroia fielder's choice where Zobrist committed a throwing error.
A David Ortiz walk later in the inning forced Cobb to pitch his way out of a first and second jam with one out, but he was able to get Napoli and Daniel Nava out in order.
The Rays starter's struggles continued in the fifth, however. Ellsbury reached on his second hit of the game, a double, and then later advanced to third on an infield single from Victorino. Cobb then threw a wild pitch in the next at-bat, allowing Ellsbury to score and Victorino to move into scoring position. Ortiz would knock him in two batters later with a single to left, putting the Red Sox ahead 3-0.
Cobb would last just through that frame, finishing with 94 pitches over five innings work. He gave up three runs (two earned) and struck out five in his second postseason start.
Later in the fifth, though, the Rays were introduced to their first hero of the night: third baseman Evan Longoria. With two runners on, Longoria took Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz over the left field fence to tie the game at 3-3.
Longoria's blast allowed Cobb to avoid taking the loss. A .198 career hitter in the playoffs, he hasn't performed much better this postseason. Longoria is hitting just .222 and that homer was his only hit of Monday night.
But those who have followed the Rays know his penchant for coming up big when he's needed the most. It was Longoria's three-hit outing during Game 163 against the Texas Rangers that helped propel Tampa Bay into the postseason to begin with.
Buchholz was making just his fifth start since June, sitting over three months on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury. But he made it clear that there were no ill effects of the injury on Monday. Nearing 100 pitches heading into the sixth inning, Buchholz surprisingly returned to the mound and retired the side in order.
The 29-year-old righty ceded to the Boston bullpen afterward, allowing 10 baserunners (seven hits, three walks) and striking out five while giving up only those three runs.
The opening pitch of Game 4 is scheduled for 8:37 p.m.
Player of the Game: Jose Lobaton (C, Tampa Bay Rays)
How could you choose anyone else? Lobaton's game-winning home run ended the fear going through Tropicana Field that the Rays would be swept by their biggest rival, only playing one game at home after being so resilient to even get to this point.
Tampa Bay's surge—both this season and in the macro sense—has been built on the backs of young talent and cheap veterans other clubs no longer wanted. Lobaton was a farmhand for years, languishing in the San Diego Padres system before finally coming up in 2009, only to be sent back down after seven games.
It wasn't until his arrival in Tampa did Lobaton get a real chance to shine. He's been a regular fixture with the big league club since 2011, slowly building his prominence within the organization each year.
On Monday, the Venezuelan catcher proved what patience can do for a baseball player.
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