ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Boston closer Koji Uehara had been virtually untouchable the past three months.
Jose Lobaton changed that with one swing.
Lobaton hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Uehara into the giant fish tank beyond the centre-field wall, and the Tampa Bay Rays staved off elimination once again by beating the Red Sox 5-4 on Monday night.
"You don't expect it ... I think that's what makes it a little tougher," Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. "It happens. I'll hand the ball to Koji tomorrow if we need to. I have all the confidence in him."
Evan Longoria had a three-run homer and the Rays prevented a playoff sweep, cutting Boston's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-five series. Game 4 is Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, with Jake Peavy starting for the Red Sox against Jeremy Hellickson.
"Our guys have a very strong ability to put this one behind us," Boston manager John Farrell said. "We knew coming in this was going to be a hard-fought series."
Uehara did not give up a home run in his final 37 regular-season appearances, dating to June 30 when Toronto slugger Jose Bautista took him deep. The right-hander allowed just one earned run during the stretch that totalled 40 1-3 innings. He worked a perfect inning in Game 2.
"It was a hard one to swallow since the team had just come back," Uehara said through a translator. "It's something that's in the past already. So, I'm not going to think about it."
Tampa Bay took a win-or-go-home game for the fourth time in nine days. The Rays did it with an unlikely stroke from Lobaton, who came off the bench to catch in the top of the ninth.
"It's unbelievable. It's something you can't explain," Lobaton said. "We never give up. We're going to keep fighting."
Back home after two weeks on the road, the Rays gave a sellout crowd of 33,675 little to cheer until Longoria homered on his 28th birthday. His three-run shot off starter Clay Buchholz with two outs in the fifth rallied Tampa Bay to a 3-all tie.
Pinch-hitter Delmon Young, who has a penchant for driving home key runs in October, put the Rays ahead 4-3 with an RBI grounder in the eighth.
The Red Sox tied it in the ninth against closer Fernando Rodney. Dustin Pedroia's RBI grounder made it 4-all.
With a runner on third, pinch-hitter Mike Carp was called out on strikes to end the inning. Carp batted for Quintin Berry, who entered as a pinch-runner for David Ortiz in the eighth.
Berry stole second on a close play that drew an argument from Rays manager Joe Maddon. But when Ortiz's spot came up again in the ninth, Boston's big slugger was out of the game.
"We look at the positive that we battled back against their closer to tie the game," Victorino said. "It's still 2-1. We're still in the driver's seat. We control our own destiny."
Rodney got the win when Lobaton golfed a low pitch to right-centre. The ball deflected off a fan trying to catch the souvenir and wound up in the 10,000-gallon tank where cownose rays swim around.
Maddon said he was studying his lineup card when he heard the crack of the bat.
"Look up and the ball is going towards the tank, which, nobody hits home runs there. Nobody does. How about that? It's incredible," he said.
The Rays won three must-win road games in three cities over four days just to get into the division series, so they felt good about their chances of coming back against the Red Sox.
Especially with Alex Cobb on the mound. The right-hander beat Cleveland 4-0 in the AL wild-card game last Wednesday and has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the majors since August 2012.
The Red Sox were just as confident about the prospect of closing out the series.
Buchholz, limited to 16 starts this season because of a neck strain that landed him on the disabled list for three months, beat the Rays twice this year while allowing no runs and five hits in 13 innings. He also entered his second career post-season appearance with a 2.26 ERA in nine career starts at Tropicana Field.
Cobb settled down after a shaky first inning in which he gave up a leadoff single to Jacoby Ellsbury, hit a batter with a pitch and walked Ortiz. But the Red Sox got only one run out of it, when second baseman Ben Zobrist made a throwing error while trying to turn a double play.
Cobb, celebrating his 26th birthday, retired eight in a row before walking Ortiz leading off the fourth. Mike Napoli followed with a single for the second hit off Cobb, yet Boston was unable to take advantage.
The Rays wasted opportunities against Buchholz, too.
James Loney doubled off the left-field wall to begin the second inning, but was erased when Desmond Jennings lined into a double play.
The Rays loaded the bases on two walks and Loney's second hit of the night, but Buchholz escaped the jam by fanning Matt Joyce.
Buchholz wasn't as fortunate in the fifth, when Yunel Escobar beat out an infield single and David DeJesus doubled with one out. Zobrist popped to shortstop, bringing up Longoria, who became the second player in major league history to hit a post-season homer on his birthday.
Willie Mays Aikens homered twice for Kansas City on his birthday Oct. 14, 1980, against Philadelphia in Game 1 of the World Series.
Longoria's homer was his ninth in 109 career post-season at-bats.
Loney had three hits off Buchholz, who allowed three runs, seven hits and struck out five in six innings.
Ellsbury scored Boston's first two runs, on Zobrist's throwing error in the first and Cobb's wild pitch in the fifth. Ortiz's fifth-inning RBI single put the Red Sox up 3-0 against the Tampa Bay starter.
"They have a great team," Pedroia said. "They never quit. We've seen that. ... Everyone knows that. We've just got to be one run better than them tomorrow. We'll be all right. We'll be fine."
NOTES: Rays rookie RF Wil Myers left before the eighth inning because of cramping in both legs. Maddon said Myers probably will he fine for Tuesday night's game. ... Former Rays and Red Sox OF Rocco Baldelli will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4.
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