After weeks of tension-filled baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays finally lost one they had to win.
Shane Victorino's infield single snapped a seventh-inning tie and journeyman Craig Breslow gave Boston a huge boost out of the bullpen, sending the Red Sox into the AL championship series with a 3-1 victory over the Rays on Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay took three win-or-go-home games last week just to reach the division series. The resilient Rays came from behind against Boston to win another elimination game Monday, giving them hope of pushing the series back to Fenway Park, where they were outscored 19-6 in the first two games.
But instead, Tampa Bay was knocked out at home.
"We didn't get where we wanted to get, but cannot be more proud or pleased with our group," manager Joe Maddon said.
Koji Uehara got the final four outs -- one night after giving up a game-winning homer -- and the Red Sox rebounded to take the best-of-five playoff 3-1.
Both managers mixed and matched all night in a tight game that felt more like a chess match. Desperately trying to avoid elimination, Maddon used nine pitchers -- a postseason record for a nine-inning game -- and had ace David Price warming up for a possible 10th inning.
"Obviously, everybody is disappointed right now," Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "Joe came in here and said don't hang our heads and remember that we had our backs against the wall several times and played really well to get to this point. It was a good year overall, but it's tough to take the loss."
Breslow relieved Boston starter Jake Peavy in the sixth and struck out his first four batters, all in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup. The 33-year-old lefty from Yale has pitched for six teams in eight big league seasons, including two stints with the Red Sox.
The highest-scoring team in the majors this season, Boston scratched out three runs on six singles in a game that featured only one extra-base hit. But that was enough to knock out the wild-card Rays, who won four win-or-go-home games over the previous nine days.
"They play a complete game," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "They're very well managed, obviously. They posed a stern challenge for us, no question."
Xander Bogaerts scored the tying run on Joel Peralta's wild pitch in the seventh and Victorino followed with an RBI infield single. Dustin Pedroia drove in Bogaerts with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to make it 3-1, and Uehara struck out Evan Longoria to end it.
Making their fourth playoff appearance in six years, the low-budget Rays have not advanced past the division series since reaching the 2008 World Series.
"It's a humbling time," said David DeJesus, who got his first taste of postseason play after he was acquired in an August trade. "Sad that it's over."
DeJesus snapped a scoreless tie with an RBI single in the sixth for the Rays, and Boston squandered several opportunities before finally breaking through in the seventh.
Bogaerts drew a pinch-hit walk with one out and raced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury's two-out single off Jake McGee. The Rays brought in their sixth pitcher, Peralta, and the game shifted suddenly on his first pitch, which skipped in the dirt past catcher Jose Lobaton -- allowing the tying run to score.
Ellsbury was stealing second on the pitch and continued to third when the ball rolled toward the backstop. Victorino beat out a slow chopper to shortstop, putting the Red Sox ahead 2-1.
Breslow pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings for the win. Uehara earned a save, bouncing back from Lobaton's ninth-inning homer in Game 3.
"It feels great," Ellsbury said. "We played a great team over there. It was a hard-fought game. It's more mentally tiring than anything. But it's a fun group of guys."
When the Red Sox acquired Peavy from the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline, they had nights like this in mind. The 32-year-old right-hander made his third career postseason start 2,562 days -- a span of seven years, five days -- after starting Game 1 of the NL division series for San Diego in 2006.
Both he and Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson were working with plenty of rest.
Although he pitched two innings in a simulated game last week while the Red Sox were waiting to learn who they would face, Peavy hadn't appeared in a major league game in 13 days. Hellickson hadn't pitched since Sept. 27, and his selection as Tampa Bay's starter in an elimination game was somewhat of a surprise.
Although the 26-year-old righty made a team-high 31 starts this season, Hellickson lost seven of his last eight decisions -- winning just once after July 26. His career-high 5.17 ERA was the second-highest in the AL to Joe Saunders' 5.26 with Seattle, but Maddon said he was confident a well-rested Hellickson would perform better than he did down the stretch.
And for one inning, he did.
But after a 1-2-3 first, Hellickson walked David Ortiz and Mike
Napoli on eight straight pitches to begin the second. Daniel Nava singled to load the bases, and Maddon had seen enough.
Jamey Wright, an 18-year veteran in his first postseason series, replaced Hellickson and worked out of the jam by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and getting Stephen Drew to line into a double play.
NOTES: Former major leaguer Rocco Baldelli, a Rhode Island native who played for both the Rays and Red Sox, threw the ceremonial first pitch. Tampa Bay senior adviser Don Zimmer played umpire on the pitch and called it a strike.... Rookie RF Wil Myers was back in Tampa Bay's lineup after leaving Game 3 with leg cramps. ... Lobaton's game-ending homer Monday night landed in the giant fish tank beyond center field. Only two others players -- Miguel Cabrera earlier this season and Luis Gonzalez in 2007 -- have homered into the tank that has been home to cownose rays since it was installed in 2006.