Going into play last Saturday, Evan Longoria owned a paltry .689 OPS on the year. Knowing that the Rays would need Longoria to perform at a high level if they planned on making a run for the title, Joe Maddon did what any manager would do to get his star player going: He moved Longoria to the very top of the lineup.
The gimmick "worked", as Longoria went 5-for-11 over the long weekend in the leadoff slot.
Tuesday, seemingly satisfied that Longoria was fine, Maddon dropped him back to cleanup. All Maddon wanted to see was the same old Longoria. The same old comfortable, productive Longoria. And that's just what he got.
Facing Arthur Rhodes in the bottom of the eighth, Longoria turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead with a two-run homer, and the Rays knocked off the visiting Rangers in the second game of a three-game series.
The pitching matchup didn't look great for Tampa Bay to begin, as spot starter Alex Cobb went up against C.J. Wilson. Sure enough, Wilson won the strikeout battle ten to four, teaching the younger Cobb a thing or two about dominance. But while Wilson missed more bats, neither starter figured in the decision, as Wilson allowed three runs in 6-2/3 innings, and Cobb allowed three runs in 6-1/3. Strikeouts are great, but on Tuesday they weren't everything. A solo home run by Sean Rodriguez in the third erased a 1-0 Rangers lead, and a two-run home run by Matt Joyce in the seventh erased a 3-1 Rangers lead.
With a tie game in the hands of the bullpens, the Rangers took the lead back in the top of the eighth. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland singled against J.P. Howell, and a wild pitch by Joel Peralta allowed Cruz to score from third base. Peralta retired Elvis Andrus with runners on the corners to stop the bleeding, but the damage had been done.
In the bottom half, Mark Lowe worked through the first two Rays he faced before Ron Washington turned the ball over to Arthur Rhodes. The left-handed Rhodes was brought in to retire the left-handed Johnny Damon, but Damon singled, bringing the right-handed Longoria to the plate as the go-ahead run. Some -- most? all? -- managers would have turned to a righty reliever at that point, but Washington stuck with the veteran Rhodes, and he was rewarded for his confidence with a big blast that changed the game.
Suddenly ahead, the Rays brought in closer Kyle Farnsworth, and Farnsworth worked a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the comeback win. After Josh Hamilton and Michael Young grounded out, Adrian Beltre lifted a lazy pop to the shallow outfield.
It's a rough loss for the Rangers, made rougher by the fact that, on Wednesday, they have to face David Price. The Rays, meanwhile, get not only the emotional lift from having won, but the psychological lift of seemingly having Evan Longoria back on track.