St. Petersburg, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Rays may just have the Boston Red Sox right where they want them.
Jose Lobaton smacked a game-winning solo homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the die-hard Rays overcame a three-run deficit earlier on to pull out a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Red Sox and force a Game 4 of the American League Division Series.
Lobaton's pinch-hit blast off Koji Uehara (0-1) enabled Tampa Bay to stave off elimination for the fourth time in the past eight days and bounce back from one-sided defeats in the first two tests of this best-of-five set.
"Jose does have a flare for the dramatic," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's done that a couple of times now. A walk-off triple, two walk-off homers. It's incredible what he's done. What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with."
Evan Longoria ignited the Rays' comeback with a game-tying three-run homer against Clay Buchholz in the fifth inning, and Tampa Bay survived a blown save from closer Fernando Rodney (1-0) in the top of the ninth to live another day.
James Loney went 3-for-3 in the win, with David DeJesus and Yunel Escobar each collecting two hits and a run scored for the Rays.
Jacoby Ellsbury finished 3-for-5 and scored twice for Boston, which had outscored its AL East rival by a 19-6 margin in the previous two meetings, while David Ortiz had an RBI single in the loss. Buchholz grinded through six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out five.
Game 4 will take place Tuesday at Tropicana Field, with Jeremy Hellickson getting the start for Tampa Bay opposite Jake Peavy.
"Tomorrow night, we'll be here ready to go, 8:30 game time," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Our guys have a very strong ability to put this one behind us."
Rodney failed to protect a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth after letting up a run on a hit and a walk, but was quickly taken off the hook. Uehara got the first two men out in Tampa Bay's half of the inning, but left a splitter into the hitting zone that Lobaton -- batting in the pitcher's spot after Maddon moved designated hitter Matt Joyce into the outfield in the eighth -- deposited into the aquatic tank behind right-center field.
The Rays had jumped ahead for the first time of the night an inning prior. Loney drew a leadoff walk against Franklin Morales and Desmond Jennings beat out a perfectly placed bunt single down the first-base line to put two on with none out. An infield single by Escobar, in which Boston shortstop Stephen Drew collided with second baseman Dustin Pedroia while fielding the grounder, loaded the bases two batters later before Delmon Young's hard groundout to first plated pinch-runner Sam Fuld for a 4-3 lead.
Rodney quickly got in trouble upon being called upon, however. He walked Will Middlebrooks to begin the ninth in front of Ellsbury's blooper into short left field that dropped in for a hit. Shane Victorino advanced both runners with a sacrifice and with Maddon playing the infield back, Pedroia's bouncer to short brought home pinch-runner Xander Boegarts with the tying run.
Ellsbury stole third without a throw to put the go-ahead score 90 feet away, but Rodney kept him there by getting pinch-hitter Mike Carp on a called third strike.
After pounding lefties Matt Moore and David Price for a combined 15 runs during the series' first two games, the Red Sox had a more difficult time against the right-handed Cobb, who came into the matchup 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA over his last four starts and fired 6 2/3 shutout innings to down Cleveland in Wednesday's Wild Card Game.
Boston did put up a run in the top of the first, the result of a throwing error by Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist.
After Ellsbury opened the game with a single and Cobb hit Victorino with a pitch, Dustin Pedroia hit a potential double-play grounder to third in which a hard but clean takeout slide by Victorino caused Zobrist's relay to first to go wide of the bag as Ellsbury raced around from second.
Cobb held the Red Sox in check over the next three innings, leaving Ortiz stranded at third with one out in the fourth. Ellsbury doubled off Loney's glove in the fifth, however, and Victorino singled him to third before Cobb uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Boston to grab a 2-0 edge. Victorino came home later in the frame on Ortiz's two-out, opposite-field single.
Tampa Bay had a chance to at least tie it the previous inning, as Buchholz walked a pair of batters around a Loney single to load the bases with two out. The Rays came up empty, though, when the Red Sox ace struck out Joyce on three pitches.
The 34-pitch fourth inning appeared to affect Buchholz in the fifth, however. He surrendered a leadoff infield single to Escobar and a double to DeJesus two batters afterward that brought the tying run to the plate. The righty rebounded to induce a popout by Zobrist, but Longoria got hold of a changeup and lofted it into the seats for a 3-3 game and new life for Tampa Bay.
Buchholz had allowed only one home run in 167 at-bats to right-handed batters during the regular season.
Cobb lasted five innings, permitting three runs -- two earned -- on five hits and recording five strikeouts.
Rays right fielder Wil Myers left the game after seven innings due to cramping in his legs, forcing Maddon to insert Joyce into the field ... Longoria, who turned 28 on Monday, joined Kansas City's Willie Aikens (1980) as the only players to homer on their birthday in postseason play ... Boston had gone 14-2 in Buchholz's 16 regular-season starts ... Ellsbury is now 8-for-14 with six runs scored in the series ... Buchholz became the first AL starter since then- Red Sox Roger Clemens in 1990 to pitch in the playoffs after posting 10 wins and an ERA under 2.00 during the regular season ... Boston lost for the first time in 10 meetings with the Rays this year when scoring at least four runs.