BOSTON (Reuters) - The Boston Red Sox rallied from a 7-0 deficit in a late offensive to stay alive in the American League Championship Series with a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Five early on Friday.
After suffering the worst record in the major leagues last season, the youthful Rays lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and need to beat the Red Sox just once in St. Petersburg to book a World Series showdown with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“IF we had won it we would be in the World Series by now. We’ll just have to wait one more day, hopefully, to get that done,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon told reporters.
Boston’s hopes for a shot at a third World Series championship victory in five years nearly evaporated in an onslaught of Tampa Bay hits in the first three innings against starting Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“Their lineup came out swinging well, and even when I was able to get ahead in the count I couldn’t finish them off,” Matsuzaka said through a Japanese translator.
Center fielder B.J. Upton blasted a two-run home run over Fenway’s infamous “Green Monster” wall in left field to score second-baseman Akinori Iwamura in the first inning.
Back-to-back homers in the third inning gave the Rays breathing space. Tampa Bay looked set to clinch the series in the seventh inning when Upton scored two runs with a double.
On the mound, Tampa Bay lefthander Scott Kazmir was almost unhittable, allowing just two hits over six innings and whiffing seven batters.
But the Red Sox clawed back, beginning with a single by second-baseman Dustin Pedroia off Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour that drove in a run to put Boston on the board in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Struggling slugger David Ortiz followed up with a three-run homer into right field, snapping his 15-game slump without a home run and rousing Fenway’s 38,437 fans from their seats and into roars of “Let’s Go Red Sox.”
A two-run eighth-inning homer by outfielder J.D. Drew kept the momentum going. Center-fielder Coco Crisp evened the game with a single that scored Mark Kotsay.
Drew connected again in the bottom of the ninth with a single into right field that bounced into the bull pen to score third-baseman Kevin Youkilis in the winning run.
“I can’t say the game was exciting because the first six innings we did nothing. They had their way with us every way possible,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters.
The Red Sox have faced similar odds before. Boston rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in the 2007 ALCS, and shocked the New York Yankees by erasing a 3-0 deficit to win the 2004 ALCS.
Both times they went on to win the World Series.
“We were down by a lot of runs and I guess it’s true we never give up. We keep on fighting. We keep on playing. We won tonight and we are going to try and keep on winning,” said Ortiz, who received rare boos and jeers after failing to get on base earlier in the game.
Reporting by Jason Szep