ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays paraded pitcher after pitcher to the mound Tuesday night, as Manager Joe Maddon desperately tried to survive another elimination game. He used nine pitchers.
It almost worked.
Five Tampa Bay pitchers held Boston scoreless for six innings.
But the Red Sox broke through for two runs in the seventh. They added an insurance run in the ninth for a 3-1 win to clinch their American League division series three games to one at Tropicana Field.
Boston advances to the AL Championship Series, which will begin Saturday at Fenway Park, against either the Oakland A’s or Detroit Tigers.
Boston looked in trouble, trailing 1-0. But the Red Sox put two runners on (Xander Bogaerts walked and Jacoby Ellsbury singled) in the seventh. With two outs, Bogaerts scored on Joel Peralta’s wild pitch.
Ellsbury scored on Shane Victorino’s infield single.
Dustin Pedroia’s sacrifice fly scored Bogaerts in the ninth.
Boston’s relief was near-perfect. Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara retired 10-of-11 batters, seven by strikeout.
Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson entered the game with question marks after he faded in the second half.
But Hellickson needed only 12 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning.
In the second, Hellickson could not throw a strike, walking David Ortiz and Mike Napoli on eight pitches. After Hellickson yielded a single to Daniel Nava to load the bases, Maddon came to get him.
Jamey Wright relieved and escaped. After Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out, Stephen Drew drilled a line drive to first baseman James Loney. He gloved it and threw to second for the double play.
Wright walked Will Middlebrooks to start the third and Maddon replaced him with Matt Moore, the Game 1 starter. Ellsbury grounded into a double play and Victorino struck out.
Moore allowed two runners in the fourth (Ortiz singled and Nava walked), but struck out Saltalamacchia to end the inning.
A fourth Rays pitcher, Alex Torres, began the fifth inning. And the Red Sox threatened again. A Middlebrooks single and Victorino’s hit-by-pitch had runners on first and second with two outs. But Pedroia grounded out.
The Sox went down 1-2-3 in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Boston starter Jake Peavy allowed no runs and three hits through five innings.
But in the bottom of the sixth, Yunel Escobar began with a double off the left-field wall. He scored on a one-out single from David DeJesus.
Peavy got Wil Myers to fly out and then was replaced by the left-handed Breslow.
Breslow ended the sixth by striking out Loney.
In the top of the seventh, hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee struck out pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes.
Next, Bogaerts was sent to pinch hit for Drew. With McGee throwing 97 mph, Bogaerts worked a full-count walk.
Middlebrooks battled but struck out on the eighth pitch. Ellsbury kept the inning alive with a single to right, sending Bogaerts to third base.
Maddon called for his sixth pitcher, Peralta, to face Victorino.
Peralta threw a curve in the dirt that got by catcher Jose Lobaton. Bogaerts raced in for the tying run. Ellsbury, who was stealing on the pitch, ended up at third.
Victorino hit a slow grounder to short. Escobar charged it, but Victorino was hustling down the line. He beat the throw to first base and Ellsbury scored the go-ahead run.
Make that the winning run.
Breslow continued his recent mastery and struck out the side in the seventh.
Breslow got a groundout to begin the eighth. But Escobar reached on an infield single.
Maddon sent in right-handed Sean Rodriguez to pinch hit against Breslow. So Farrell brought in right-hander Tazawa. So Maddon replaced Rodriguez with lefty Matt Joyce.
Tazawa struck out Joyce. With two outs, Farrell called for Uehara. He delivered by striking out DeJesus.
Uehara finished it off in the ninth and the Red Sox celebrated.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: