On big stage, Longoria doesn't disappoint
ARLINGTON -- The magic might have temporarily deserted them, but there was no darkness in the vicinity of the Rays on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Manager Joe Maddon's troupe remained in an upbeat frame of mind as lockers were vacated and athletes departed the visitors' clubhouse for a return home to Florida for Games 3 and 4 of an American League Division Series rematch with Texas.
The Rangers salvaged the split they desperately needed with an 8-6 decision at the expense of Tampa Bay ace James Shields in an inartistic Game 2. But the Rays clearly liked their chances heading to Tropicana Field.
They feel their starting pitching empowers them, and they love having Evan Longoria in the heart of the lineup to make big things happen when it matters.
"Even losing this one, we did a lot of good things," said B.J. Upton, Longoria's accomplice in the top-third of the Rays' order. "We still feel good about our chances. With our starters, needing two wins on our field, it's all you can ask for."
Upton had singled, his third hit of the night, behind a Desmond Jennings walk when Longo did what Longo does.
Facing Koji Uehara, who has been a problem for him in the past, the Rays' third baseman unloaded a three-run homer to left-center field that knocked the air out of a sellout crowd that had been feeling oh so good entering the seventh.
Suddenly, as Longoria's drive disappeared, it was a one-run game. And the Rays have been kissed by the baseball gods lately in such affairs.
"We were back in the game," Longoria said. "It gives us life going into the late innings. We were one swing away at that point. The belief is there, and it's going to continue to be there.
"This team is going to continue to play hard until our last breath. We've had our backs against the wall -- we know what that feels like."
This time, however, the other side enjoyed a happy ending. Ageless Darren Oliver restored order and derailed the Rays' momentum with three consecutive outs following Longoria's bomb. Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz finished the job.
Longoria, who broke New England's hearts on the final day of the season with his two jacks against the Yankees, had a shot at tying it with one swing in the ninth.
Encountering Feliz and his high-90s heat after Upton's walk with one out in the ninth, Longoria took a strike, fouled off a belt-high heater and then sent a curveball into medium center field for the second out. When Ben Zobrist flied to right, the Rangers and their faithful exhaled.
"I went back and looked at the video," Longoria said. "The first pitch was a ball, off the plate, but it was called a strike. Down 0-1, everything's different. I felt I was on the fastball, but it wasn't in the middle of the plate. Then he got me off balance and threw a breaking ball.
"Do I want another crack at it? Of course I do. But we got one [game] and we've got a chance to win the series at home. And I still think with the guys we have going the next two games, we have the advantage."
David Price and Jeremy Hellickson will be dealing at the Trop for the hometown team, matched against Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison.
If it goes to a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday in Texas, the Rays will see Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, who was outgunned by young Matt Moore in the series opener.
"We did beat the one guy we've had trouble with -- C.J.," Longoria said.
It was the Rangers' turn to handle an ace in Game 2, taking advantage of a rare stretch of wildness by Shields in a five-run fourth inning.
A controversial ruling kept alive David Murphy's at-bat after Mike Napoli's two-run single brought Texas even at 3. After Murphy's roller in front of the plate for an easy out was ruled a foul ball by home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley, a wild pitch on a strikeout and an infield out produced two runs.
"That was a tough call for us," Longoria said. "It could have gone in our favor. I didn't see what Kerwin saw. I thought [Murphy] swung and the ball went out in front of the plate."
Television replays supported Longoria's view, not that it ultimately mattered.
"They did a good job of capitalizing on a couple of things that went their way," Longoria said. "James is a tough pitcher. He gets out of that situation many times. I'd take him out there again tomorrow."
Shields will resurface only if he is brought back on three days' rest for an all-or-nothing Game 5 on Wednesday.
Longoria, on the other hand, is just getting warmed up.
The franchise leader with eight postseason homers, he is tied with Upton with 18 RBIs on the October stage. There are some baseball insiders who would take Longoria first in a Draft of every player in the game, given his position, age, contract and full range of talents.
In his past six games, four during the Rays' mad dash to the AL Wild Card, he has four homers, nine RBIs and eight walks, going 8-for-21.
"The only knock on him this year has been his batting average," Johnny Damon said, "but batting average has never won championships. He came up big again tonight."
As habits go, it's one Longo doesn't want to break.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.