ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Craig Breslow has had longer outings in his career, but none as stressful as he experienced on Tuesday night in Game 4 of the Division Series.
“We asked a lot out of the guy,” pitching coach Juan Nieves said. “But we knew he could handle it.”
Breslow was the winning pitcher in a clinching 3-1 victory, throwing 1⅔ scoreless innings. He retired five of the six batters he faced, four by strikeout.
The four strikeouts were his most in a game since 2010 and matched a career best.
The Red Sox turned to Breslow, their best lefthanded reliever, in the sixth inning with a runner on second and the Rays leading, 1-0. He struck out James Loney to end the inning.
Breslow then struck out the side in the seventh before getting the first out in the eighth inning. Not until Yunel Escobar singled did he come out of the game after 23 pitches, 16 of them strikes.
After the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning, Breslow handed it off to Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara to secure.
It was only the second time this season that Breslow pitched over parts of three innings in a game.
“Not something I’ve done. In these situations, you’re feeding off adrenalin and off momentum. Once I got in there and got ahead of Loney, things slowed down a little bit.”
Breslow pitched in three of the four games in the series, going 3⅔ scoreless innings. Righthanded hitters were 1 for 9 against him.
“He’s been, I don’t want to say an unsung hero, but he’s flown under the radar most of the year. Next to Koji, he’s a very dependable reliever,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
“When he comes out and gets the strikeout of Loney and he goes through the next inning with the three strikeouts, a huge performance on his part to bridge to both Junichi and Koji as we finish that out.”
The Sox were able to get Breslow some rest after they clinched the American League East. That made a difference for him.
“It was important. That’s one of the advantages of clinching early, you can get your pitchers some rest,” Breslow said. “It’s a fine line with a reliever, giving you time off but still staying sharp. Pitching [on Monday] was big for me. I was able to get in a rhythm and stay there.”
As Breslow spoke to the media in a joyous clubhouse, starters Jon Lester and John Lackey poured champagne and beer on him.
“This guy, what a stud,” Lackey said. “Unbelievable.”
First baseman Mike Napoli wore swim trunks and was shirtless for the postgame celebration. But Jonny Gomes geared up as he did after the AL East clincher with a combat helmet.
Xander Bogaerts, who walked twice and scored two runs, was 20 when the Sox clinched the East and has since turned 21. But he did not partake in any alcohol.
“I can drink, but I don’t drink,” he said. “I’m legal, but I won’t.”
Lefthander Andrew Miller, who is out for the season but traveling with the team, also didn’t partake. He is having surgery on Thursday to get a screw removed from his broken foot and was told not to imbibe.
Runnin’ Red Sox
The Red Sox finished fourth in the majors with 123 stolen bases this season and have the most steals in the postseason with six.
Not since 1973, when they also finished fourth, have the Sox been that high among the league leaders. Jacoby Ellsbury had 52 of the steals. But 16 other players combined on the other 71.
Shane Victorino (21) and Dustin Pedroia (17) had the bulk of those. But Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ortiz each had four and Will Middlebrooks three.
Farrell said it’s a combination of talent and an organizational philosophy to be aggressive when opportunities arise.
“We’ve got guys that have got base stealing in their past, whether it’s Jacoby, [Pedroia], Victorino. But I think the one thing our other base runners have bought into is when there’s an opportunities, when they might not have thought about a stolen base, to be aggressive in those situations.
“The bottom line is we try to outline things for guys that they have 100 percent assurance in their own mind that they can steal a base. It’s a matter of having our communication in the moment.”
The Red Sox were caught stealing only 19 times during the regular season. Their .866 percentage was the best in the game.
“It’s the trust in themselves that they can get there without [getting] caught stealing,” Farrell said. “Our success rate probably says that we’ve been doing okay at that.”
Daniel Nava was caught stealing in the eighth inning, part of botched hit-and-run. That ended a streak of 45 consecutive successful steals dating back to August 9.
David Ortiz drove in three runs in the series. That gave him 50 postseason RBIs in his career. Only six players in history have reached that mark. Former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams has the record with 80. Ortiz’s former teammate, Manny Ramirez, is second with 78 … The Sox were 15-8 against the Rays this season, 7-4 at Tropicana Field … Ellsbury was 9 for 18 in the series with seven runs, two RBIs, and four stolen bases. Conversely, Napoli was 2 for 13 with one RBI … Victorino was hit by a pitch four times in the series, twice in the final game. It was a Division Series record. … Former Rays and Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli threw out the first pitch. The Rhode Island native now works for the Rays in their baseball operations department. Tampa Bay senior adviser Don Zimmer, who managed the Red Sox from 1976-80, was the honorary umpire. Zimmer is 82 and has been involved in pro ball since 1949.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.