The Washington Times - October 19, 2008, 12:38AM

By JAY LeBLANC
October 19, 2008

Red Sox 4, Rays 2
Series tied 3-3

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Jason Varitek’s two-out solo shot in the top of the sixth broke a 2-2 tie and gave the visiting Red Sox a lead they would never relinquish as they went on to beat Tampa Bay 4-2 to tie the American League Championship Series at three games apiece. Red Sox starter Josh Beckett allowed two runs on four hits in five innings of work and the Boston bullpen took over from there, with Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon holding the Rays hitless the rest of the way to force a Game 7 showdown for the A.L. crown tonight at Tropicana Field.

The Rays jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when B.J. Upton launched a one-out solo shot off the left field catwalk off Beckett. The blast was the seventh of the postseason and fourth of the ALCS for Upton, who hit just nine homers during the regular season. Beckett followed up his gopher ball with a walk to Carlos Pena before getting Evan Longoria to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Tampa Bay’s advantage was short-lived, as Kevin Youkilis led off the Boston second with a solo homer to center off Rays starter James Shields to tie the game at a run apiece. J.D. Drew followed with a single to center, but was cut down at second on a fielder’s choice by the next Boston batter, Jason Bay. Mark Kotsay singled to right to put runners at first and second with one out for Jed Lowrie, but Shields got the rookie shortstop to fly to center for the second out. The next Boston batter, Varitek, worked the count full before flying out to left to end the threat.

The Red Sox took the lead in the top of the third. Dustin Pedroia drew a one-out walk, advanced to third on a double by David Ortiz and came home with the second Boston run on a Youkilis ground out. Shields issued back-to-back walks to Drew and Bay to load the bases with two outs, but got Kotsay to fly out to left to limit the damage.

The game was delayed between the third and fourth innings because of an injury to home plate umpire Derryl Cousins. The 29-year veteran was struck in the chin/collarbone area by a Varitek foul ball in the top of the second. He stayed behind the plate for the next inning and a half before removing himself from the game. Tim McClelland shifted from first base to behind the plate while Cousins went for treatment. MLB.com reported last night that Cousins was “expected to be OK.”

Tampa Bay tied the game at two in the bottom of the fifth in most unlikely fashion. With two outs and none on, No. 9 hitter Jason Bartlett - who homered once in 454 regular-season at bats, and has 11 homers in 1,533 career at bats - slugged a solo shot to left off Beckett. Bartlett’s surprising blast would have given the Rays the lead if Dioner Navarro hadn’t been caught stealing on a botched hit-and-run attempt earlier in his at bat.

Boston took the lead right back in similarly surprising fashion in the top of the sixth. Shields got Kotsay to line out to second and then fanned Lowrie to bring Varitek to the plate. The Red Sox captain, who hit just .220 with 13 home runs this season and came to the plate with a woeful 4-for-28 mark in the postseason, drove a Shields pitch over the right field wall to put Boston up 3-2. After Coco Crisp followed with an infield single, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Shields in favor of J.P. Howell. It appeared the lefty had recorded the inning’s final out when Pedroia hit a grounder to shortstop, but Pedroia reached on a throwing error by Bartlett that also allowed Crisp to advance to third. Ortiz came through with an RBI single that scored Crisp to make it 4-2 Boston before Howell could escape by whiffing Youkilis.

The Red Sox threatened to extend their lead in the seventh. With one out, Howell plunked Bay, who advanced to second on a Kotsay groundout. Maddon summoned Grant Balfour to pitch to Lowrie, but the right-hander walked the Red Sox shortstop on five pitches. With Varitek at the plate, Rays catcher Navarro allowed a passed ball, putting runners on second and third with two outs. However, Balfour got Varitek to fly to right to keep the Boston advantage at two.

On the other side, Boston’s bullpen completely shut down the Rays after Beckett departed. Okajima came on in the sixth and tossed two scoreless frames, allowing nothing but a harmless two-out walk to Longoria in the sixth. Masterson came on to begin the bottom of the eighth and immediately plunked the leadoff man, Bartlett, before retiring the next three Rays hitters in order. Papelbon shut the door in the ninth with a 1-2-3 inning.

The Red Sox - on the brink of elimination when trailing 7-0 in the seventh inning of Game 5 - have once again battled back to force a Game 7 in the ALCS. Boston trailed the Yankees three games to none in the 2004 ALCS before roaring back with four straight wins, and fell behind Cleveland three games to one last year before taking the final three contests to advance to the World Series. They’ll attempt to do it again tonight, with lefty Jon Lester facing off against Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza in a Game 3 rematch. Lester allowed four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings to take the loss in Game 3 after not allowing an earned run in his previous four postseason outings, while Garza earned the win with six innings of one-run ball. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. EST.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.