Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Evan Longoria has hit, RBI in return as Tampa Bay Rays beat Toronto Blue Jays 4-1

ST. PETERSBURG — He actually didn't do all that much, a bases-loaded sac fly, a single to lead off the eighth, a groundout and a strikeout.

But Evan Longoria — for the first time since April 30 — was back in the Rays lineup Tuesday. And with him, they hit a bit, they scored a few, and they won, 4-1 over the Blue Jays.

"There was nothing about today that was negative," Longoria said. "We get a win, which was most important. I get an opportunity with the bases loaded, have a good at-bat and come out with a good result. And no setbacks — felt great, nothing to say about that.

"It was a good day."

Longoria's return was the soundtrack of the night — complete with the Tantric violins and a standing ovation before his first at-bat from the Tropicana Field gathering of 13,823 — but it wasn't the whole story as the Rays snapped their scoreless streak at 22 innings and improved to 57-52 overall.

James Shields continued their MLB-best stretch of pitching with another dazzling performance, following his three-hit shutout with an eight-inning, two-hit, one-run outing. "Just staying aggressive with my fastball," he said.

There were actual key hits from up and down the lineup, Desmond Jennings with two and two runs, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist each with RBIs.

And Fernando Rodney, despite some interference from home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, logged his 33rd save and broke the team record for consecutive scoreless relief innings with his 22nd.

But Longoria's return was the primary topic, and it came with two basic themes:

One, that expectations needed to be tempered — "I'm not the savior," he said — since he'd been out more than three months and still wasn't 100 percent.

And two, that just his presence in the lineup as the DH was a benefit, as it changed the way the other hitters around him were pitched.

While the first will be an ongoing discussion, the second seemed to be obvious truth.

"It seemed like the guys got a little different spark today," Shields said.

"Just a lot more confidence knowing he's in there," Rodriguez said.

Longoria, batting cleanup, grounded back to the mound leading off the second inning, drove a fly ball to the right-centerfield wall with the bases loaded in the third to make it 2-0, struck out swinging at a curveball in the fifth and singled up the middle in the eighth, then left for a pinch-runner. Most importantly, he said the previously partially torn left hamstring, and the rest of him, felt good after the game, and he expects to play again tonight.

There are still some things the Rays don't know.

Such as, how often he can be in the lineup? There is no set number, though Longoria, who played four straight games at Triple-A Durham and felt fine, is hoping it is greater than three. Manager Joe Maddon said the decisions will be made daily based on how Longoria feels and the schedule, with Thursday's 1 p.m. game following a night game a potential day off. "The point is to not break him," Maddon said.

Such as how much running he can do. Though there are no strict rules — such as not sliding — Maddon said they don't want any "heroic movements" on the bases, and Longoria will be cautioned against running too hard to first or trying to break up a double play. Longoria said he is confident he can handle the basics, such as going first to third or scoring from second on a single and will be smart about it.

Such as when Longoria could play third base, a bigger issue if Luke Scott comes off the disabled list next week. Longoria continues to take ground balls and said he hoped a return to the field was "right around the corner," but there is no time frame.

"It's just nice," Maddon said, "to have him back."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

   
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