ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Will Middlebrooks' two-out, bases-clearing double off closer Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning lifted the Boston Red Sox to a stunning 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
Middlebrooks was down to his last strike after taking a 100 mph fastball over the plate but hit a changeup to the wall in left to score three batters who had reached on walks by Rodney. The blown save was Rodney's third after failing to convert on just two of 50 last season.
Boston won the series and improved to 24-18. Tampa Bay fell to 20-20.
Rodney walked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to start his own trouble before striking out Mike Napoli. Another walk to Daniel Nava loaded the bases, but Rodney appeared close to escaping with a strikeout of Stephen Drew and then jumping ahead of Middlebrooks with a 1-2 count. The bases cleared quickly when left fielder Matt Joyce was unable to stop Middlebrooks' fast-rolling grounder before it reached the wall.
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.
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 Sox manager John 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 a David 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.