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08/28/10 11:52 PM ET

Red Sox let lead slip away, fall to Rays in 10

Atchison allows winning home run after V-Mart's clutch blast

ST. PETERSBURG -- The final blow of an agonizing defeat came from Dan Johnson, a backup player who stung the Red Sox badly for the second time in the last three seasons. It was Johnson who belted a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th off Scott Atchison that gave the Rays a 3-2 win over Boston in 10 innings Saturday night at sold-out Tropicana Field.

On Sept. 9, 2008, Johnson -- who played in Japan last season -- hit a game-tying homer for the Rays in the top of the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon in a key pennant-race contest at Fenway Park.

"I was trying to go fastball in," said Atchison. "I felt like that was probably the right pitch. I haven't looked at it on video, but I think maybe it ran back over and got a little more of the plate than I wanted. But credit him, he hit the pitch, and he hit it out."

It was a crushing loss for the Red Sox, who were trying to move within 3 1/2 games of the Rays in the American League East. Instead, Boston fell 5 1/2 games back of both the Rays and Yankees, who beat the White Sox, 12-9.

"Tough. It's definitely tough," said Sox catcher Victor Martinez. "But like we've been the whole season, tomorrow's a new day, come back tomorrow, keep fighting, see what happens."

It was Martinez, Friday night's hero with two homers, who put his team in position to win again by snapping a 1-1 tie with a solo shot in the top of the eighth against Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit.

But Clay Buchholz gave the lead right back, surrendering a game-tying homer to B.J. Upton to lead off the bottom of the eighth.

"I actually looked back at it -- the pitch was pretty good that B.J. hit out," said Buchholz. "He just hit it. I was committed to throwing a curveball there. I hadn't thrown him one at any time previously. It was the first one he had seen all night and he caught it. It is what it is."

It was an otherwise fine performance by Buchholz, who allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) over 7 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out five.

This was a tough defeat to swallow, as the Red Sox were six outs away from what could have been a huge win.

"Tough," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew. "Really well pitched game by Clay, B.J. hits a big home run right there after Victor does. Ultimately, you want to try to battle it out, had a couple of really good-pitched games, so we'll come out tomorrow and see what happens."

More painful than Johnson's walk-off or Upton's equalizer was the bottom of the seventh, when the Red Sox had a couple of defensive miscues that allowed the Rays to tie the game.

With Carlos Pena on first and one out, Buchholz made a bad pickoff throw that sailed all the way down the line in right and into Boston's bullpen. Pena -- who wasn't a stolen-base threat in that situation -- raced all the way to third.

"Yeah, he wasn't going to run there," manager Terry Francona said of Pena. "That's a tough way to give up a run."

Buchholz wasn't second-guessing himself so much for making the throw, but rather, the fact that he rushed it.

"I'm not second-guessing any of that," Buchholz said. "I tried to get it over there a little too quick and he wasn't as far off as I thought he was. Actually that was called. It was from the dugout. I just tried to throw it too quick. It was basically just a checkover throw to make sure he knew that I still knew he was over there. I screwed it up."

There was more frustration to come.

Matt Joyce followed with a foul ball down the line in right that Drew raced into Tampa Bay's bullpen to catch. However, Drew's effort allowed the Rays to tie the game, as Pena scooted home on the sacrifice fly.

The way Drew told it after the game, he didn't even want to catch the ball. It just sort of happened.

What was Drew's mindset as he ran toward the ball?

"Let it drop, pretty much," said Drew. "I really don't know how I caught the thing. It's kind of amazing to me. If I tried to make that play in a situation with two outs and the game on the line, I probably wouldn't be able to get to it. For some reason, the thing stuck in my glove. I had every intention of letting the ball drop. Just instinct. Put the glove out right at the last second and it ended up in there."

Just like that, Buchholz's scoreless streak ended at 26 innings.

The duel, featuring two of the best right-handers in the AL, lived up to its billing. The Red Sox did get Matt Garza to crack briefly in the fourth.

Martinez led off with a single and David Ortiz hammered a double to center, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. Adrian Beltre got the run home with a sacrifice fly to left, giving Buchholz a 1-0 edge.

"What a wonderful game," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "If you're a baseball fan, how could you not enjoy that game? Both starters did great jobs. Bullpens did good jobs. Great at-bats, a lot of intensity. Just a well-played baseball game. I enjoyed it. Of course I enjoyed it more because we won."

One of the highlights of the game -- in fact, the season -- came in the bottom of the second. With Joyce on first and one out, Upton smoked one into the gap in right-center. It seemed to have RBI double or triple written all over it. But center fielder Ryan Kalish made a sensational diving grab, finishing the play with a somersault.

Ultimately though, all the things the Sox did right went for naught, as they were left to watch Johnson ignite a walkoff celebration at home plate.

Déjà vu?

"I don't care who hits it," Francona said. "It hurts any way."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.