ST. PETERSBURG — While the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen was being battered on a nightly basis back in May, manager Joe Maddon never wavered.
Tampa Bay was losing leads and victories, but Maddon kept the faith and vowed that by the end of the year, relief pitching would be considered a team strength.
Although the 2013 season ended for the Rays on Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to Boston, a deep relief corps excelled for the second consecutive night against the most potent batting order in the major leagues.
Facing another elimination game, Maddon wasted little time displaying his confidence in a pen that would ultimately be emptied by the end of a game and a season.
When the first three Red Sox batters reached base in the second inning, Maddon lifted Jeremy Hellickson after only 22 pitches, Jamey Wright escaped the jam with a strikeout and a dazzling double play turned in by first baseman James Loney on Stephen Drew's liner.
“When your season is on the line, anything goes,'' said Jake McGee, the fifth of nine pitchers used by Maddon on Tuesday. “You could tell it was going to be crazy from the start, with Jeremy only going one inning.
“I knew it was going to be a long day for the bullpen.''
Matt Moore, making his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason, hurled two scoreless innings, striking out three, and Alex Torres allowed one hit in his two innings before the Rays broke a scoreless tie in their half of the sixth.
A wild pitch by Joel Peralta and Shane Victorino's infield single in the seventh provided Boston's first two runs and the Red Sox, who were only 5-33 this season when scoring fewer than four runs, held on.
“I felt great coming in,'' Peralta said. “I had good stuff, but I bounced a pitch.''
Tampa Bay's seventh pitcher of the evening, Fernando Rodney, left to a blend of cheers and catcalls when Chris Archer came on with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth. Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly provided an insurance run before Wesley Wright registered the final out.
The Red Sox — who led the majors in runs and total bases — were limited to six singles. By the end of the night, David Price and Monday's starter Alex Cobb were the only available Rays pitchers if the game had reached extra innings.
On Monday, the Rays bullpen yielded only one run in four innings and Tampa Bay rallied for a 5-4 triumph.
“Yeah, (Price) was going to go into the 10th,'' Maddon said. “It was an interesting game. We needed to score more runs, we've had a hard time with that, but I thought our bullpen was fabulous.''
With runners on first and third and two outs in the seventh, Peralta replaced McGee to face Victorino, a switch-hitter.
Jacoby Ellsbury took off for second and catcher Jose Lobaton couldn't handle Peralta's wild pitch, tying the score as Ellsbury raced to third.
The speedy Victorino then beat out a slow roller to short as Ellsbury came across with the go-ahead run.
“This was a very unique game,'' Boston manager John Farrell said.
“We faced nine different pitchers, and early on we had to remain patient, not making wholesale changes with our lineup, not knowing who they might go to next.''
Cobb was the only Tampa Bay pitcher who didn't take the mound or warm up in the pen.
“It wasn't a bad year, but it wasn't what we were envisioning for ourselves,'' Cobb said. “Our accomplishments will start sinking in during the offseason — not right now.
“I'm so proud of our bullpen. They did quite a job under tough conditions.''