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10/17/08 2:10 AM ET

Rays unable to finish off Red Sox

ALCS heading back to St. Pete after seven-run lead slips away

BOSTON -- Just like that, a seven-run Rays lead and a trip to the World Series disappeared as the Red Sox's bats heated up in the late innings for an 8-7 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday.

The Rays were nine outs away from nailing down a trip to the Fall Classic, but they couldn't get it done. Now the ALCS will shift back to Tropicana Field for Game 6 on Saturday night with Tampa Bay leading 3-2 in the series with two chances to win its first pennant.

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With the score tied, 7-7, Kevin Youkilis reached in the ninth inning on a two-out infield single and went to second on Evan Longoria's wild throw to first base. J.P. Howell then intentionally walked Jason Bay before J.D. Drew singled over right fielder Gabe Gross' head to give the Red Sox the largest comeback in the history of postseason games by a team facing elimination.

"He stayed on it good, he showed discipline, man," said Howell of the 3-1 changeup Drew hit for the winner. "It was a pretty good piece of hitting. He drove it and it had backspin over [Gross'] head."

When Drew's hit landed, the six innings of flawless Rays baseball that started the game were effectively erased.

"Yeah, we outplayed them for six, but we play nine here," Howell said. "We've got to throw this one out of the window. They checked us, and they showed us why they're here. With their backs against the wall, they didn't quit."

Holding what appeared to be a commanding 7-0 lead after six innings, the Rays went to a bullpen that had been solid throughout the postseason. In 24 2/3 postseason innings, the Rays' bullpen had allowed just four runs. Unfortunately for the Rays, that total doubled Thursday night.

Grant Balfour started the seventh inning, and the hard-throwing right-hander surrendered an RBI single to Dustin Pedroia and a three-run homer to David Ortiz that cut the Rays' lead to 7-4.

Despite having three left-handers in the bullpen, Rays manager Joe Maddon did not consider lifting Balfour in favor of one of the trio to face Ortiz.

"No, we've been doing that all year," Maddon said. "Grant has been very good in that situation. Actually, he just got him tonight. If you had been watching us all season, that's the situation where Grant has really done well. He's been kind of like that middle closer guy and I felt pretty good about it. Papi just got him."

Dan Wheeler issued a leadoff walk to Bay in the eighth before giving up a two-run homer to Drew. Coco Crisp added an RBI single during a 10-pitch at-bat to tie the game, 7-7.

Tropicana Field, Saturday, 8:07 p.m. ET
Red Sox starter: RHP Josh Beckett
2008: 12-10, 4.03 ERA
2008 on the road: 7-5, 2.85 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 2-1, 2.06 ERA (five starts)
Career vs. Rays: 5-3, 3.11 ERA (10 starts)
2008 ALCS vs. Rays: 0-0, 16.62 ERA (one start)
2008 postseason: 0-0, 11.57 ERA
Career postseason: 6-2, 2.85 ERA
Rays starter: RHP James Shields
2008: 14-8, 3.56 ERA
2008 at home: 9-2, 2.59 ERA
2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-2, 5.85 ERA (four starts)
Career vs. Red Sox: 2-4, 5.23 ERA (eight starts)
2008 ALCS vs. Red Sox: 0-1, 2.45 ERA (one start)
2008 postseason: 1-1, 3.29 ERA
Career postseason: 1-1, 3.29 ERA
Rays lead series, 3-2. This is the 12th time since the advent of the best-of-seven ALCS in 1985 that one team has held a 3-2 series advantage. Of the previous 11 times, the team with the 3-2 series lead has gone on to win the series seven times.
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
Did You Know? Tampa Bay suffered its first defeat of the season when establishing a lead of five or more runs. The Rays are now 38-1 in such games this year.

"They're a great lineup over there," Wheeler said. "Just boil it down to we weren't able to execute and they were. It came a lot at once. That's the thing, they're very capable of doing that. You know, we come back on Saturday, if the same situation arises, I've got 100-percent confidence in all of us to go back out there and get the job done."

Maddon couldn't get too upset with his bullpen.

"Nobody feels worse than the guys out of our bullpen right now," Maddon said. "Nobody feels worse. They've done a tremendous job all year.

"I thought we played a great game. They just came back and beat us tonight. That happens sometimes. We're going to go home, take tomorrow off and come back, and [James] Shields will pitch in Game No. 6. But you can't dwell on it. Again, we'll lose for a half-hour or so and then we'll move on. We have another game to play."

Scott Kazmir started for the Rays and silenced the critics who thought Maddon had made a tactical error by switching starting pitchers from Shields to Kazmir. The Rays left-hander pitched six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits.

"Kaz was very good tonight," Maddon said. "You feel pretty good about a seven-run lead at that point of the game with Grant and Danny coming into it. It just didn't want to happen. There goes Papi and there goes Drew. I mean, that just can happen at any time."

The Rays' offense got busy early Thursday night.

B.J. Upton put the Rays up, 2-0, in the first inning when he homered on a 1-1 pitch from Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. The blast gave Upton three for the ALCS and six for the postseason.

Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer off Matsuzaka in the third, and Longoria followed with a solo shot over the Green Monster to put the Rays up, 5-0.

Longoria's home run gave the Rays 13 homers for the series, which broke the ALCS record of 12 set by the Red Sox in 2003.

Upton doubled home two more in the seventh to put the Rays up 7-0, which looked like enough of a cushion for victory.

"We played a great game, scored seven runs," Upton said. "They stayed in it, they didn't give up. And they came back to win."

Throughout the season, the Rays' credo has been to take losses hard for the first half hour after the game, then forget about it.

"By the time we get on the plane, we'll forget about it," Upton said. "Guys will be talking and joking around. We still have two games to play and they have to come to us."

However, the frustration of being so close to the World Series on Thursday night and not being able to finish it off was real.

"Yeah, you could smell it," Upton said. "But they're a veteran team. They've been here year after year. They've done it once and obviously they knew they weren't out of it. It's a seven-game series. They played all 27 outs. And that's the outcome."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.