Manager Joe Maddon just wanted the Rays to play their kind of game Monday as they faced elimination. So they did. Just another night of Rays baseball, really. They fell behind early, tied it on a three-run homer by birthday boy Evan Longoria, went ahead, blew that lead, then won it on a two-out walkoff homer by Jose Lobaton, stunning the Red Sox 5-4. "Really," Maddon said, "an incredible day for the Rays." As a result, they live to play another, hosting the Red Sox tonight in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, with Jeremy Hellickson on the mound and an immense amount of confidence and momentum on their side.
"It kind of showed the way this team is right now," starter Alex Cobb said. "We're not going to die. You're going to have to take our last breath away from us, and we're still going to be fighting and screaming at the end. It's going to be a fun ride, and I don't think it's going to be over anytime soon."
The Red Sox, who still are up two games to one in the best-of-five series, feel otherwise, of course.
"There's no need to bounce back, we're up 2-1," outfielder Shane Victorino said. "They are not giving up. They are a good team. We knew that. But we're a good team, also."
Lobaton would be considered an unlikely hero, though it was his third walkoff hit of the 14 the Rays have celebrated this season. But nothing that was obviously this big, and of course he got the now obligatory ice cream to celebrate.
"It's a different feeling," Lobaton said. "To hit a homer in that situation is something special. Something that you can't explain."
More special, Lobaton was only batting in that spot because rookie rightfielder Wil Myers had left the game with cramps and Maddon had moved DH Matt Joyce to the outfield, delaying the need for a replacement for the pitcher in the cleanup spot and creating the opening to use Lobaton to hit then for the pitcher.
"Purely all National League right there," Maddon said.
And Lobaton was batting against Sox closer Koji Uehara, who had not allowed a home run since June 30, had allowed only one earned run over his previous 38 appearances and hadn't allowed a run to the Rays in 11 outings.
"It's a hard thing to swallow," Uehara said.
Lobaton's drive was the first by a Rays player to land in the rays touch tank during its eight-year existence (two visiting players had done so), and — if you're into karma — appeared to glance off the glove of a fan wearing a Rays No. 29 jersey repping Dan Johnson, who hit a couple of pretty big homers himself.
Lobaton's homer was actually the second of two huge blasts by the Rays.
Down 3-0 with the bounces and breaks going against them, they tied it in the fifth on a three-run homer by Longoria, who celebrated his 28th birthday in a big way before a roaring Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 33,675.
"I think anytime you're playing in October and your birthday is in October, it's a pretty good birthday in itself," Longoria said. "Coming into the game I just, I wanted to play good, a solid team game overall and be able to come out on top. To come through in that moment makes it all the more special."
The game hadn't gone well to that point, an error by second baseman Ben Zobrist leading to Boston's first run off Cobb, then a couple of well-placed hits and a questionable call at third leading to two more.
But when Longoria hit his homer off Clay Buchholz, Cobb said, "Guys started to believe again. You could feel it in the dugout."
They took the lead in the eighth with a "rally" that consisted of a walk, a bunt for a hit by Desmond Jennings, a slow grounder up the middle that Sox middle infielders Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia collided on and got no outs, and a ground ball to first by pinch-hitter Delmon Young that scored the run.
But closer Fernando Rodney gave it back in the ninth, allowing a walk and a bloop single, then after a bunt gave up the run on a grounder to short.
But the Rays weren't done, not yet, anyway. For the fourth time in nine days, they prevailed in a game they had to win or their season would have been over.
"We all understand that we have our backs against the wall," Longoria said. "And it seems like those moments have been fueling us. These are the games that we've really played well in. Although you'd like to be on the other side, maybe we need that right now."
Maybe it's just the Rays way after all.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.