BOSTON — One ball fell between two outfielders. Another took a bad hop off the Green Monster standings board.
One batter reached safely on a dropped third strike, and another when the pitcher was slow to cover first.
By the time it was over, the Boston Red Sox had scored five runs in the fourth inning, taking advantage of Tampa Bay’s bad luck and suddenly shaky defense to overcome an early deficit and route the Rays 12-2 Friday in Game 1 of their AL division series.
“You play 162 games, a lot of innings, a lot of pitches, a lot of runs,” said Jonny Gomes, who doubled to tie the game and then scored from second on an infield single to give Boston the lead for good. “One thing you can guarantee in the playoffs is you’re going to see something you haven’t seen all year — and we saw that right away.”
Needing a 163rd game to earn a wild-card berth, the Rays won three win-or-go-home games in three different cities to reach this series.
Now they need a victory behind last year’s Cy Young winner, David Price, in Game 2 today to tie the best-of-five series before it shifts to St. Petersburg, Fla., for Games 3 and 4. John Lackey is slated to go today for the Sox.
“We’ve been playing very well. We’ve not been making any mistakes. We made a bunch tonight,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “But I’ve also learned one other thing regarding baseball: 24 hours can make a huge difference.
“That’s just one game, baby. That’s just one,” he added. “We’ll be back tomorrow, I promise you. We’ll be ready to play. We will not be affected mentally by tonight’s game.”
Jon Lester allowed three hits in 7 2/3 innings for the AL East champions, giving up solo homers to Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to spot the Rays a 2-0 lead through the top of the fourth. Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore had still not given up a hit.