ST. PETERSBURG -- When it finally ended after four hours and 19 minutes, players on both sides knew they'd been part of something special.
"I tell you what, man, that's a [great] game," Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. "I don't think you could ask for more than that."
He could have been speaking for the players on both the Red Sox and Rays after they'd gone at each other relentlessly for nine innings Monday night.
Baseball has this ability to deliver games like this one, games that feel like some mix of splendid theater and a great heavyweight fight. There were players diving here, there and everywhere.
There were spectacular defensive plays and a couple of boneheaded ones, too. But the mistakes added to the drama.
"It was one of those games people love to watch," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, "and you want to be part of."
It was a game that had everything. In all, 37 players got into it, including 11 pitchers who threw 312 pitches.
For the Tampa Bay Rays, the bottom line is that they won it, 5-4, to keep their season alive at least one more day. In the last eight days, they've played four elimination games in four different cities and won 'em all.
They still trail this best-of-five American League Division Series 2-1, and so will be playing another win-or-go-home game Tuesday night in Game 4. No big deal, right? Been there, done that.
"They have a great team," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "They never quit. We've seen that. Everyone knows that."
The Red Sox showed up hoping to deliver the knockout punch. And when they scored twice in the top of the fifth inning to take a 3-0 lead, the clock appeared to be ticking on the Rays.
After winning those games in Toronto, Texas and Cleveland last week, they seemed to have hit a wall in losing the first two games of this series at Fenway Park. Only they weren't quite done.
"It seems like those moments have been fueling us," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "These are the games that we've really played well in."
And then the Rays drew another line in the sand. Longoria delivered a franchise-rattling three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie it.
That quickly, the entire series had a new feel.
"All of a sudden, it's a different world," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Right about then, it got crazy. Managers began emptying their benches and their bullpens in the chess game that is the late innings.
The Rays took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth despite not hitting a single ball really hard. Then the Red Sox tied it in the top of the ninth.
Finally, Rays catcher Jose Lobaton ended it with two outs in the bottom of the ninth by homering off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who'd allowed one earned run in his previous 38 appearances.
If the Red Sox are having any doubts about their ability to finish this thing off, they didn't show it or say it. Instead, they appreciated the moment.
"To be honest with you, that might be the best game of the whole playoffs," Ortiz said.
It'll do until a better one comes along.
"What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with," Maddon said.
Even the team that didn't win the game had no regrets.
"We played a very good game tonight," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
He said he never expected anything less from the Rays.
"I'm sure there's an attitude they have nothing to lose and just let it all hang out," he said.
The Red Sox left runners in scoring position in four of the nine innings. For a team that led the Majors in runs this season, they don't have many nights like this one.
But Maddon got five decent innings from his starter, Alex Cobb, and then shuffled in four relievers for the final four.
Afterward, neither team said it expected a quick series.
"We're coming back hungry just like we did today," Ortiz said. "We know this ain't over. We know we've got to come and play, make pitches, score runs. We've got to do whatever it takes to win the game."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less