ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — From worst to first, and now back in the AL championship series.
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 ALCS 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 Boston rebounded to take the best-of-five playoff 3-1.
A year after finishing in last place, the AL East champion Red Sox won 97 games to match St. Louis for the best record in baseball. Now, they're moving on to the ALCS for the first time in five years.
"It's great, but we've still got one more to get where we want to be," Victorino said. "We're going to get a few days off to rest and see what happens in the other division series, and we'll go from there."
After the resilient Rays were finally eliminated, Boston will open at home Saturday against the Athletics or Tigers. Oakland hosts Detroit in a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
Both managers mixed and matched all night at Tropicana Field in a tense game that felt more like a chess match. Desperately trying to force a fifth game, 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 the Red Sox.