Koji Uehara Only Human, ‘Not From Another Planet’ and Other Red Sox Notes From Game 3 of ALDS

Koji UeharaThings just got a lot more interesting.

The Red Sox entered Monday’s Game 3 in Tampa Bay with a 2-0 series lead. Then, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the scoreboard with Clay Buchholz toeing the rubber. Everything was looking up for those in the Boston dugout. The only problem was that the Rays were in the opposing dugout.

The Rays have fought tooth and nail just to get into their current situation, so there was no way that Joe Maddon’s scrappy squad was going to go down without a fight. And not only did the Rays make a game of it Monday, but they also lived to see another day by virtue of a Jose Lobaton walk-off homer against Koji Uehara.

Yes, you read that last part correctly. Uehara, who has been so dominant all season, gave up a long ball to Lobaton with the score tied 4-4 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Red Sox will now try to eliminate the Rays on Tuesday, with Jake Peavy and Jeremy Hellickson squaring off in Game 4 at Tropicana Field.

Before we shift our full attention to Game 4, let’s unload the Game 3 notebook.

  • Uehara ended the regular season with no home runs allowed over his final 37 appearances. The last home run he surrendered was to Jose Bautista on June 30. The homerless streak lasted 40 1/3 innings.
  • Forget home runs. Uehara allowed just one earned run over his final 37 appearances of the regular season (0.22 ERA).
  • The message repeatedly hammered home by Uehara’s teammates after Monday’s loss was that the Red Sox closer is only human. Surprisingly, they’re right, no matter how unhittable Uehara has looked this season.
  • “It wasn’t a bad pitch. [Jose Lobaton] just did a good job of going down and getting it and hit it out,” Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “You guys have to remember that he’s a human being and those things are going to happen. The good thing is, he’s able to bounce back. He’s done it all year long, and we don’t expect anything different.”
  • “He’s human. It’s going to happen once in a while,” Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves added. “Fortunately, it’s only happened once this year. He had a great year. This doesn’t take away anything he’s done.”
  • “He’s a trooper. And it happens,” David Ortiz said of Uehara. “He’s going to keep on pitching. He’s a pitcher. He’s human. He’s not from another planet. We’re happy that we have him and the way that he has performed for us, but situations like that are going to happen and to be honest with you, that was a good pitch.”
  • Jose Lobaton wasn’t exactly swinging for the fences against Uehara. But he wasn’t looking for a measly single, either.

“And then I was walking to home plate and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to try to hit the ball hard, try to get a double. I don’t need a single,’” Lobaton said. “First pitch, he threw me a split. And I said I’ve got to be more back. And he threw me the next pitch, I hit the ball hard and said I think I’ve got it. But they said keep running, keep running.”

  • Joe Maddon was actually preparing for the next inning when Lobaton smoked his walk-off homer into the aquarium located beyond the fence in right-center field.

“I swear I was looking down on my card and you’re preparing for what’s going to happen,” Maddon said. “Their pitchers are so good. And then I hear that thing you hear on the radio back in the day when you’re listening to the Cardinals on KMOX, laying on the floor in Hazleton, Penn., that knock. And look up and the ball is going towards the tank, which nobody hits home runs there. Nobody does. How about that? It’s incredible.”

  • So how improbable was Lobaton’s home run? Well, Madden wouldn’t have bet money on it.

“All these things, if you want to go on probable, look at the probability of it.  If you work out his abilities versus that pitcher’s abilities, what’s been going on. If you’re going to bet some bucks on that, you’re going to lose, it’s not normally going to happen,” Maddon said. “He climbed all over that. It was down, but he got the head of the bat on it and the rest is Rays’ history. It’s really an incredible game to participate in.”

  • Uehara hasn’t had issues with the long ball this season, but it was a major problem for him in the past. Uehara surrendered three home runs in 2 1/3 career playoff innings before this postseason. Two came in the Rangers’ 2011 ALCS versus the Tigers.
  • Lobaton certainly earned himself plenty of ice cream with Monday’s game-winning homer.

Lobaton typically receives a cup of ice cream for each of his home runs. Following a walk-off home run earlier this season, Maddon bought Lobaton a tub of ice cream while the catcher’s teammates gave him 10 additional ice creams. We can probably expect a similar haul of frozen treats this time around.

“I think every homer that I’ve been hitting it’s been pretty good ice cream. But today was amazing,” Lobaton said. “I think the second homer, the second walk‑off that I hit, they gave me like 20 ice creams, something like that. It was pretty good. But today, it’s postseason, it’s different. But it was pretty good. If I can just keep hitting, maybe I’m going to get fat.”

  • The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead Monday before letting the game slip away. The game-changing blow was Evan Longoria’s game-tying three-run homer in the fifth inning.

“Well, when you’re down by three and that inning was — we never give up. Never,” Lobaton said when describing the mood before Longoria’s blast. “But we kind of a little bit down, a little bit, well, now we’ve got to score three more runs. And after we saw that — the ball out, it’s kind of like the energy came back. Everybody was kind of like, we’ve got a chance now. We’ve got a chance.”

  • Longoria became the second player in MLB history to hit a postseason home run on his birthday. The other was Willie Aikens in Game 1 of the 1980 World Series. Longoria turned 28 Monday.
  • The two home runs were the game’s biggest highlights, but there were some interesting managerial decisions throughout the game — on both sides.
  • The Red Sox could have walked Longoria with first base open, two outs and rookie Wil Myers, who had been 0-for-12 in the series, coming up. Instead, Clay Buchholz pitched to him, and the rest is history.

Farrell said after the game that he gave “no consideration” to walking Longoria in that situation. But perhaps the Red Sox should have at least considered more of an unintentional intentional walk and pitched around the slugger in that spot.

  • Ortiz led off the top of the eighth inning with a walk, at which point Quintin Berry was inserted as a pinch runner. Berry stole second base — although he was clearly out — but never ended up scoring.

Pinch running Berry in that spot with the score tied 3-3 was a gamble. There was always a chance that Ortiz’s spot in the order could come up again, yet Farrell decided to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of the go-ahead run in that eighth inning.

“Yeah, we do [wrestle with the decision]. And in that situation in the eighth inning, feeling like that’s — not knowing if his spot is going to come back around, didn’t want to miss an opportunity,” Farrell said. “Berry does his job, gets the stolen base. Unfortunately, we got a man in scoring position with one out, a strikeout and a popup against [Jake] McGee. But, no, I don’t second‑guess that pinch run move there.”

  • Stephen Drew popped out to strand Berry at second base. Drew hit .196 (30-for-153) with a .585 OPS against lefties during the regular season, but Farrell opted not to insert Xander Bogaerts as a pinch hitter with left-hander Jake McGee on the hill.

“No, McGee has been dominant against right‑handed hitters,” Farrell said. “He’s almost a right‑handed reliever in some ways because of the strong reverse splits he has. Stephen is a good fastball hitter. We know McGee is going to come at us with 95 percent fastballs, if not more. There was no hesitation to leave Stephen at the plate.”

Righties hit .217 with a .648 OPS against McGee this season. Lefties hit .235 with a .678 OPS.

  • Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa were the first two relievers summoned from Boston’s bullpen. Next up was Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman in the eighth inning, and the Rays managed to push across a run in that frame to take a 4-3 lead.
  • Dustin Pedroia tied the game 4-4 with an RBI groundout in the ninth inning. The play involved two separate questionable decisions by Maddon.

First, the Rays could have walked Pedroia. First base was open with one out, and the Rays could have put Pedroia aboard to face Mike Carp and, more importantly, set up a potential game-ending double play.

Secondly, the Rays played the infield back. If the infield had been brought in, Yunel Escobar likely would have fielded Pedroia’s grounder in on the grass and kept Bogaerts, who pinch ran for Will Middlebrooks, at third base.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on on that moment,” Maddon said after the game. “If you walk Pedroia, you have the bases loaded. Carp was going to hit for Berry, all of this stuff was nasty stuff. For me, it was just not about not losing the lead. At least if it’s a tie, we’ve got a shot.”

  • Jake Peavy will make his third career playoff start Tuesday. The 32-year-old is 0-2 with a 12.10 ERA (13 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings) in his two playoff starts with the Padres — in 2005 and 2006.

“Another guy with playoff experience. He’s pitched well here in Tampa. He got three innings of work this past Wednesday, so even though it’s been a number of days since his last start, we’re looking forward to Jake being on the mound [in Game 4],” Farrell said. “It’s one of the main reasons we acquired him at the deadline is to pitch in a game like tomorrow night.”

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