ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A Tampa Bay bullpen that suffered a meltdown in Game 5, giving up eight runs in the final three innings of an 8-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox, redeemed itself in a big way Sunday night.
Four relievers combined to hold Boston scoreless in the eighth inning, with rookie left-hander David Price striking out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded to stifle the rally, and the Rays held on to beat Boston, 3-1, in the decisive Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
The eighth inning began with shortstop Jason Bartlett booting Alex Cora's grounder for an error. Manager Joe Maddon pulled starter Matt Garza in favor of Dan Wheeler, who gave up a single to Coco Crisp to put two runners on with no out.
Manager Terry Francona shunned the bunt and let Dustin Pedroia, who homered in the first inning, swing away, but Pedroia flied to left field.
Maddon then summoned left-hander J.P. Howell to face slugger David Ortiz, who grounded to second baseman Akinori Iwamura, whose throw to second base was just in time to force Crisp.
In fact, had Crisp slid straight into the bag instead of to the right of the bag in an effort to break up a double play, he would have been safe.
Maddon then went to submarine-style-throwing right-hander Chad Bradford, who walked Kevin Youkilis on a full-count pitch to load the bases.
In came Price, the former Vanderbilt star who appeared in only five regular-season games this season. Price jumped ahead of Drew with two sliders for strikes, and after throwing a fastball for a ball, Drew couldn't check his swing on a 97-mph fastball, striking out to end the inning.
"Is that an ALCS record?" Maddon said, when asked about using four relievers in one inning. "I felt really good about David tonight. This young man is composed beyond his years."
Garza, who hadn't won consecutive games since June 26 and July 1, won both of his starts against the Red Sox to win ALCS most-valuable-player honors.
The right-hander and former Fresno State star was asked whether, after the Rays' Game 5 meltdown and their Game 6 loss, there was any doubt or fear among the players on the team.
"No, none at all," he said. "We've been like this all year. We told ourselves, people have been doubting us from day one. People were happy when we got our 71st win. They were excited when we got our 81st win, saying you guys cleared the .500 mark.
"We still kept going. People kept saying, you guys are going to falter in August and September. You guys are going to falter when you face Chicago [in the division series]. You guys don't match up well against Boston.
"You know, we've proved doubters wrong the entire time, and we just told each other, keep believing, keep fighting, keep playing the way we played all year, and good things are going to happen."
There was also a sense of accomplishment in a subdued Red Sox clubhouse.
"With the injuries we overcame this year, starting the season in Japan, the grind we went through, I'm proud of this team," closer Jonathan Papelbon said.
Said Pedroia: "We played as hard as we could. I guess we just ran out of magic."