ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This most surprising of Red Sox seasons will continue on, the World Series now four wins away.
The Sox are headed to the American League Championship Series after beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1, in a game that ended early Wednesday morning at Tropicana Field.
Game 1 will be Saturday at Fenway Park against either the Oakland Athletics or Detroit Tigers. That series is 2-2 with Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland.
“I don’t care who we play. I know we’ll be ready,” David Ortiz said. “I’ll tell you what, this team isn’t stopping.”
The Red Sox easily dispatched of the Rays in the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series at Fenway Park. But the two games on the road were tense, nail-biting affairs.
After losing, 5-4, on a walkoff home run on Monday, the Sox held the Rays to one run on six hits in Game 4. Craig Breslow worked 1⅔ innings for the win. Junichi Tazawa got one out in the eighth inning before Koji Uehara got the final four outs for his second save of the series.
It was Uehara who had allowed Jose Lobaton’s game-winning home run on Monday.
“I wasn’t down on myself at all,” Uehara said. “Whatever the results were, I had the confidence for this game.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell managed the bullpen to near perfection as the three relievers pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out seven without a walk.
“For me, this is uncharted territory,” said the 33-year-old Breslow, who until this season had not pitched in the postseason. “Every win that we get, I’m going to relish and understand that we have an ultimate goal in mind. Hopefully this is just a step.”
Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia had RBI singles for the Sox. Rookie Xander Bogaerts came off the bench and scored two runs after drawing walks.
“That’s the kind of thing you look back on and talk about, executing and doing the little things,” Victorino said.
Tampa Bay used nine pitchers but was unable to stave of elimination for the fifth time in 10 days. The Sox outscored the Rays, 26-12, in the series.
“They were really good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “They didn’t make any mistakes. You could see their grit. I talked about that from spring training on. I think they really promoted the character from within that group and they’re just gamers.”
The postgame celebration was a bit calmer than the one after the Red Sox clinched the American League East. The players did dump a tub of ice water on Farrell and soaked general manager Ben Cherington with champagne.
“There’s still work to do,” said Jake Peavy, who allowed one run over 5⅔ innings before the bullpen completed the job of shutting down the Rays. “This group of guys isn’t done yet.”
By the time the fifth inning was over, the Red Sox had put eight men on base and the Rays had used four pitchers. But, remarkably, the Sox had not scored.
Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson was 2-6 with a 7.02 earned run average in his last 10 appearances of the regular season and hadn’t pitched since Sept. 27. He retired the Sox in order in the first inning on 12 pitches.
But Hellickson walked Ortiz and Mike Napoli on eight pitches to start the second inning, getting righthander Jamey Wright up in the Tampa Bay bullpen.
When Daniel Nava singled to right field to load the bases, Maddon had a quicker hook that Marvelous Marvin Hagler and went to Wright.
Wright struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia looking at a 2-and-2 curveball. Stephen Drew was next and he lined a cutter to the right side of the diamond. First baseman James Loney made a leaping catch for the second out, then fired to second base to catch Napoli and end the inning.
Through six innings, the Red Sox were 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position and had stranded six runners.
Maddon went to lefthander Jake McGee for the seventh. That’s when Farrell started making his moves.
Jonny Gomes pinch hit for Saltalamacchia and he flied to center. Bogaerts, whom Farrell elected not to use against McGee on Monday, pinch hit for Drew and walked.
Before the game, Farrell defended his decision not to use Bogaerts in Game 3. Then a few hours later, those reasons vanished.
“I reserve the right to change my mind,” Farrell said. “I felt like at that moment, as tough as lefthanders have been on Stephen, we had to try something different.”
Middlebrooks struck out, but Ellsbury singled and Bogaerts went to third.
With Victorino up, Maddon called in righthander Joel Peralta. His first pitch was a curveball that bounced away from Lobaton and Bogaerts scored. Ellsbury, who was stealing second on the pitch, kept on going to third base.
That proved to be a smart play as Victorino’s infield single scored Ellsbury and the Sox had a 2-1 lead. Pedroia followed with a single before Ortiz struck out.
The Sox added a run in the ninth when Bogaerts walked and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Pedroia.
“I tried to stay calm and stay with my approach. Walks are fine,” Bogaerts said. “I thought there was a possibility that I would hit. It worked out well.”
Peavy had not pitched since Sept. 25. The veteran righthander savored the chance to take the mound in the postseason and at least partially erase the memory of two poor Division Series starts for the Padres in 2005 and ’06.
Peavy was brilliant for five innings this time, shutting out the Rays on three hits and only 56 pitches. But his teammates provided no run support.
Yunel Escobar doubled to start the inning, took third on a groundout, and scored when David DeJesus singled to right field.
With lefthanded hitting James Loney up, Farrell called in Breslow.
Peavy, who had thrown only 74 pitches, walked off the mound staring straight ahead. Breslow struck out Loney and the Sox were down, 1-0. The bullpen strangled the Rays from there.
“I understood the situation, as much as I wanted to stay in that game,” Peavy said. “This isn’t about me. I’m glad I pitched the way I did but the biggest thing was for this team to win the game.”