ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Shane Victorino’s infield single snapped a seventh-inning tie and journeyman Craig Breslow gave Boston a huge boost out of the bullpen, sending the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Koji Uehara got the final four outs — one night after giving up a game-winning homer — and the Red Sox rebounded to win the best-of-five playoff 3-1.
Back in the ALCS for the first time in five years, they will open at home Saturday against the Athletics or Tigers. Oakland hosts Detroit in a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
A year after finishing last in their division, the AL East-champion Red Sox won 97 games to match St. Louis for the best record in baseball.
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“It’s great, but we’ve still got one more to get where we want to be,” Victorino said.
Both managers mixed and matched all night in a tense Game 4 of the AL Division Series that felt more like a chess match.
Desperately trying to avoid elimination, Rays skipper Joe Maddon used nine pitchers and had ace David Price warming up for a potential 10th inning.
“The way it was working at the beginning there, I could see it was just not going to work and we had to do something differently,” Maddon said. “We became a little bit more extemporaneous at that point.”
Breslow relieved Boston starter Jake Peavy in the sixth and struck out his first four batters — all of them in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup.
The 33-year-old lefty from Yale has pitched for six teams in eight big-league seasons, including two stints with Boston.
Xander Bogaerts scored the tying run on Joel Peralta’s wild pitch in the seventh and Victorino followed with an RBI infield single.
Dustin Pedroia drove in Bogaerts with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to make the score 3-1, and Uehara struck out Evan Longoria to end the game.
The resilient Rays won four win-or-go-home games over the previous nine days and led 1-0 this time before Boston broke through in the seventh.
Bogaerts, pinch-hitting, drew a one-out walk and raced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-out single off Jake McGee.
The Rays brought on their sixth pitcher, Peralta, and the game shifted suddenly on his first pitch, which skipped in the dirt past catcher Jose Lobaton — allowing the tying run to score.
Ellsbury was stealing second on the pitch and continued to third when the ball rolled toward the backstop. Victorino beat out a slow chopper to shortstop, putting the Red Sox ahead 2-1.
Uehara earned a save, bouncing back from Lobaton’s ninth-inning homer in Game 3.
Coming from behind in another elimination game Monday gave the Rays hope of taking the series back to Fenway Park, where the Rays were outscored 19-6 in the first two games.
“They didn’t make any mistakes. You could see their grit,” Maddon said of the Red Sox.
“They’ve got a bunch of gamers over there. … On the other side, I think our guys were equally as tough. We have had a hard time hitting their pitching staff.”