ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Will Middlebrooks was torn. Fernando Rodney had just blazed a 100 mph fastball by him and was one strike from closing out the game at Tropicana Field on Thursday night.
The previous fastball had beaten him so badly, Middlebrooks thought, that Rodney might come back with it. Or he might come in with his typical changeup, although his inability to control it had already contributed to walking the bases loaded.
"He hung me a changeup," Middlebrooks said. "Normally, he buries that pitch."
Instead, Middlebrooks buried the Tampa Bay Rays, lacing a bases-clearing double to left that sent the Boston Red Sox to a stunning 4-3 victory and series win.
The first ninth-inning, go-ahead RBI hit of Middlebrooks' career was certain to tie the score with runners moving on contact, but Daniel Nava was able to tear home from first base when left fielder Matt Joyce could not stop the ball from reaching the wall.
"One pitch. Maybe the only pitch I threw bad and they hit it," Rodney said. "I forget about it. I'm getting ready for tomorrow. Everything that happened tonight is gone."
Boston manager John Farrell, with his team 24-17 overall and 6-10 in May, hopes that everything that happened lingers as the Red Sox's road trip continues.
"I think it can have some carry-over," he said. "We've come through a pretty tough 10-day stretch, but I think what's most important the last couple nights is the approach that we've used for the majority of the season, and it showed up again tonight, particularly in the ninth inning against Rodney. ... There was no give-up. There was no letdown."
The blown save was more carry-over in what has been a woeful start to the season for Rodney. The blown save was his third in 10 tries after failing to convert just two of 50 last season. He already has allowed as many earned runs (nine) as he did total runs last season as Tampa Bay fell to 20-20.
Rodney walked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to start trouble in the ninth before striking out Mike Napoli. Another walk to Nava loaded the bases, but Rodney appeared close to escaping with a strikeout of Stephen Drew and then jumping ahead of Middlebrooks 0-2 and then 1-2.
"Middlebrooks squares up a changeup, hits it right in the gap on a low line drive even though you're playing pretty good depth," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He just hit right through everything. That was a good at-bat. Fernando just struggled with his command early through that inning. ... We did everything right, and then all of a sudden it went away."
Junichi Tazawa (3-2) pitched two innings to pick up the win but had to retire American League batting leader James Loney, hitting .370 at the time, with two outs and the tying run at second.
In a game in which the Rays outhit Boston 7-4, walks were at the center of both teams' troubles. Boston's inability to throw strikes set the Rays up for a go-ahead two-run rally and a 3-1 lead in the sixth in which Desmond Jennings and Luke Scott had RBI singles.
Reliever Clayton Mortensen replaced starter Felix Doubront and induced a fielder's choice on the first batter he faced but then walked two consecutive Rays to load the bases. Jennings gave the Rays a 2-1 lead with a soft liner up the middle and Scott ruined Farrell's attempt to gain a platoon advantage by singling off left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.
Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb wasn't as dominating as in his last outing but extremely effective, limiting Boston to three hits through 6 1/3 innings and striking out six.
Jake McGee entered to quell a minor threat in the seventh and Joel Peralta set up Rodney for the save attempt. Rodney (1-2, 5.28 ERA) was charged with three earned runs on a hit and four walks.
Ryan Roberts gave the Rays a 1-0 lead in the second with his third home run of the season. He belted a 2-0 fastball into the left-field stands.
Boston tied the score 1-1 in the fourth when Shane Victorino doubled and scored with two out on an Ortiz single to right through the exaggerated shift the Rays have deployed against him throughout the series.
Doubront, who had his last turn in the rotation skipped so he could work on refining his mechanics, allowed two runs and three hits but six walks.
NOTES: The Rays placed reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left triceps. Price left in the third inning of a loss on Wednesday to the Red Sox at Tropicana Field after experiencing tightness. An MRI revealed no damage, the team said. Price had never been on the disabled list as a big-leaguer. Rays manager Joe Maddon said he expects Price's DL stint to be "minimal." Maddon did not announce a replacement for him in the rotation, but RHPs Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Alex Colome and LHP Alex Torres -- who was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Thursday -- are candidates. ... Boston.com reported that Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey threw a 15-pitch simulated game at Tropicana Field on Thursday and "felt good." He is slated to pitch an inning for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday and rejoin the Red Sox on Monday in Chicago. ... Boston reliever Joel Hanrahan underwent successful "Tommy John" surgery on Thursday, performed by Dr. James Andrews. ... Boston had lost a season-worst three consecutive series.