Fittingly, the end arrived dripping with excitement when B.J. Upton lifted a fly ball to shallow right field with one out in the bottom of the 11th. Everyone in the ballpark knew about the speed of pinch-runner Fernando Perez, who stood on third base. What they didn't know was whether that speed could carry Perez home with the winning run before the throw from Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew reached home. Perez answered that question in a cloud of dust at home when he slapped his palm on the plate to mint the 9-8 walk-off win over the Red Sox.
The Rays' victory tied up the series at one game apiece, much to the approval of a sellout crowd of 34,904 at Tropicana Field.
Boston will host the next three games at Fenway Park, which has historically been tough on the Rays. With the win, the Rays avoided having to win two at Fenway Park in order to stay alive in the best-of-seven series.
Mike Timlin walked the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 11th before Jason Bartlett grounded out to third to advance the runners. Akinori Iwamura was then intentionally walked to set up a force play with Upton at the plate.
Initially, Upton didn't believe he had hit the ball far enough to score Perez, no matter how fast he was.
"But the more it got out there and the more it hung up there ... and I saw [Drew] wasn't going to have a chance to really set his feet," Upton said. "I knew Fernando was going to take a chance. J.D. has a pretty good arm. He just couldn't get his feet turned.
"I was watching the whole time. As soon as it went up, I didn't know if he was going to go. Off the bat, I saw where the ball was and immediately turned to Fernando to see what he was going to do."
Understanding the team he plays for as he does, Perez didn't hesitate to take off for home.
"This team is really all about erring on the side of aggressiveness," Perez said. "So that was a pretty prime example of that."
Perez breathed easier once he saw Boston catcher Kevin Cash moving down the third-base line to field Drew's throw.
"Because I didn't really see the throw," Perez said, "I'm just thinking get to the back side of the plate as fast as possible. And as soon as I saw him move up the line, I knew I was in there."
The game, which saw the teams use a combined 37 players, began like a slow-pitch softball game.
Struggling aces Scott Kazmir and Josh Beckett started for the Rays and Red Sox, respectively, allowing six home runs between them with neither pitcher lasting through the fifth inning.
GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
|Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza|
|2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.53 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 1-1, 4.50 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 3-1, 3.86 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester|
|2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA|
|2008 at home: 11-1, 2.49 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 3-0, 0.90 ERA|
|Career vs. Rays: 4-0, 3.38 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 0.00 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-0, 0.77 ERA|
|Series tied, 1-1. It marks the 19th time in 39 American League Championship Series that it has been tied at a game apiece.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Did You Know? The 37 players used by both teams in Game 2 tied an ALCS record for a game of any length, last matched by the Red Sox and Indians in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.|
Kazmir experienced an all-too-familiar beginning when he threw 38 pitches in the first inning, giving up a two-run double by Jason Bay that immediately put the Rays behind. By the time Kazmir got an early hook with one out in the fifth, he had surrendered two home runs to Dustin Pedroia and another to Kevin Youkilis.
Beckett, though not as wild as Kazmir, was equally ineffective, allowing home runs to Evan Longoria, Upton and Cliff Floyd.
Grant Balfour took over for Kazmir and Bay greeted him with a solo home home run, which gave the Red Sox a 6-5 lead and established a new ALCS record and tied the postseason record for combined home runs in a game with seven.
Fifteen runs were scored before the seventh inning. After that, just two scored. Pedroia scored on a Dan Wheeler's wild pitch to tie the game in the eighth, and Perez scored the winner in the 11th.
Wheeler, who normally pitches one inning or less, put forth a heroic 3 1/3-inning effort before rookie David Price got the final two outs in the top of the ninth to earn his first big league win.
"It was a dogfight," Wheeler said. "That's what we knew coming into this series. It's been like that all season with those guys. I'm really excited for our guys to go out there and battle and come away with this one."
As uplifting as Saturday night's win was for the Rays, it might have been even more of a deflating loss for the Red Sox.
"It's exciting, when you play a five-hour game and you use so many of your pitchers. You're just worn out," Perez said. "That's a bad loss to take, it's not one that sits so well, like those two-hour games that you lose 6-0 and you forget about it. Both teams invested a lot into it. And we're real fortunate to come away with that one."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.