"Game 7, it's not the World Series Game 7, but it's the closest thing we are right now to it," Rays reliever Grant Balfour said. "So this is it. It's everything on the line and we're going to throw everything at them tomorrow and see if we can come away with a win."
By defeating Tampa Bay for the second consecutive game, the Red Sox erased the Rays' 3-1 series advantage. The Red Sox are now 5-0 all-time in Game 6 of the ALCS, and they have won nine straight ALCS elimination games.
Many in the media have speculated that the Rays were tight for Game 6, which was not a view shared by Rays players.
"I think the guys went into tonight confident," Balfour said. "We knew it was going to be a tight ballgame, and it was a tight ballgame. We were on the other end of it, and hopefully tomorrow we can switch that around."
A sellout crowd of 40,947 watched as the Rays got off to a good start thanks to postseason hero B.J. Upton.
Upton continued his torrid offensive spurt with a first-inning home run on a 3-2 pitch from Josh Beckett that put the Rays up, 1-0. Upton's blast hit the C-ring catwalk -- 125 feet above the field -- and gave him four home runs for the ALCS and seven for the postseason to tie Troy Glaus' American League postseason record. Upton also accrued his 11th RBI with the blast, tying him with David Ortiz (2004) for the LCS RBI record.
"We started out pretty well with B.J.'s homer, but we could not string anything together," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We had four hits, whatever it was, and they left 12 guys on base, and I was taking that as a good sign, but it just didn't want to come through for us."
Boston's Kevin Youkilis tied the game at 1 with a home run in the top of the second off Rays starter James Shields, and he drove in the Red Sox's second run when he grounded out to score Dustin Pedroia in the third.
Prior to the fourth inning, home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins left the game to undergo examination after taking a blow to the chest area on a foul ball. Tim McClelland took over behind the plate, which could have bothered Shields, but he said it did not.
GAME 7: JUST THE FACTS
|Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester|
|2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA|
|2008 on road: 5-5, 4.09 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 3-1, 2.10 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Rays: 4-1, 3.72 ERA (eight starts)|
|2008 ALCS vs. Rays: 0-1, 6.35 ERA (one start)|
|2008 postseason: 1-1, 1.83 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-1, 1.86 ERA|
|Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza|
|2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA|
|2008 at home: 7-3, 2.89 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-1, 3.86 ERA (five starts)|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 4-1, 3.49 ERA (seven starts)|
|2008 ALCS vs. Red Sox: 1-0, 1.50 ERA (one start)|
|2008 postseason: 1-1, 4.50 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-1, 4.50 ERA|
|Series tied, 3-3. The Red Sox are the eighth team in history to force a seventh game in the LCS after facing a 3-1 series deficit. Six of the previous seven clubs have won Game 7, including the Red Sox in 2004 and '07.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Game 3: Rays 9, Red Sox 1|
|Game 4: Rays 13, Red Sox 4|
|Game 5: Red Sox 8, Rays 7|
|Game 6: Red Sox 4, Rays 2|
|Did You Know? The Red Sox have won nine straight elimination games in the ALCS, dating back to their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in 2004. Boston has won 13 of its last 15 postseason elimination games overall.|
"Early in the game, I struggled a little bit with my command," Shields said. "Later in the game, I found my command."
Jason Bartlett hit a home run off Beckett with two outs in the fifth that hugged the foul pole in left field to tie the game at 2. But that would be all the runs the Rays would get off Beckett, who went five innings and limited the Rays to four hits and one walk. It was a much-improved performance over his Game 2 start, when he allowed eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings -- including three home runs -- in a 9-8 Red Sox loss.
"Last time, he left a lot of fastballs over the middle of the plate and we were able to hit those pitches," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "And today he was able to put those on the corners and keep us off-balance with the curveball in the strike zone and a changeup when he needed it."
Slumping Boston catcher Jason Varitek gave the Red Sox the lead with two outs in the sixth. The Red Sox catcher entered Game 6 0-for-12 in the ALCS, but he managed to hit a 2-0 Shields pitch into the right-field stands to put the Red Sox up, 3-2.
Coco Crisp added an infield single that chased Shields. J.P. Howell took over to face Pedroia, who grounded to shortstop, but Bartlett threw wild to first to allow Crisp to reach third. Ortiz's single scored Crisp to put the Red Sox up, 4-2.
"I got lazy, my feet got lazy," Bartlett said. "I thought I had it pretty easy and my feet got lazy. ... I always pride myself on defense, so that's going to eat at me tonight."
Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterson effectively bridged the gap between Beckett and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who retired the Rays in order in the ninth to preserve the win and earn his second save of the ALCS.
Looking ahead to Sunday's Game 7, Maddon said, "It's all about how we react to the moment. It's a great learning experience. For us to win that game would be something special for us.
"So it's not about looking into the past. It's about looking into the future right now. We've got to get ready to play that game [Sunday]. We've got [Matt] Garza ready to pitch and we're going to go out and play our game, and that's basically how I'm going to look at it. It has nothing to do with what happened over the last couple days."
Veteran Cliff Floyd noted that the Rays have been resilient all year.
"We've found a way to get it done," Floyd said. "We don't see any reason it shouldn't happen [Sunday]. Baseball's funny. Nobody in a million years thought we'd be in the position we're in. We thought we'd be popping bottles a couple of days ago, but it didn't happen. Now we're about to see what we're made of."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.