ST. PETERSBURG — The fist pump going around first base, admittedly a bit out of character, was the first sign of just how good Evan Longoria felt. The second was the huge grin — "Alfred E. Neuman,'' manager Joe Maddon offered for those familiar with Mad magazine — as he crossed home plate.
At some point, Longoria was going to become Longoria again. And Tuesday night, when he hit a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth to give the Rays a hard-fought 5-4 win over the Rangers, was as good a time as any to put his extended struggles aside and come through with his biggest hit of the season.
"It's been a process over the past 2½ weeks, and it was pretty relieving to come through in a situation where the team is looking to you,'' Longoria said. "It definitely was a relief.''
Longoria delivered the biggest blow before the Tropicana Field gathering of 12,783, but he had help as the Rays battled from three deficits, and overcame some sloppiness, to improve to 29-25. Rookie Alex Cobb overcame a shaky 27-pitch first to give them a solid 61/3-inning effort in his second big-league start, and Sean Rodriguez, with a solo shot in the third, and Matt Joyce, with a two-run blast — off another lefty — in the seventh hit tying homers.
And after a wild pitch by Joel Peralta and wobbly pursuit by catcher Kelly Shoppach gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth, Longoria, returned to cleanup after three days leading off, came through with a towering drive off lefty Arthur Rhodes that just cleared the metal grating atop the leftfield wall.
"Man, that's great,'' Joyce said. "He's a big part of the offense and when he gets rolling we're a very dangerous team offensively.''
Longoria, admittedly trying to do too much during a .133 12-game skid, benefitted from the three-day stint at the top of the order, where he simplified his approach and went 5-for-11.
"I got some results in that role, and any time you get results and have some success you can build confidence,'' he said. "And when you start building back that confidence that you haven't had, it makes it a little bit easier.''
He also got some help from Texas manager Ron Washington, who admitted he erred in not having right-handed closer Neftali Feliz ready and in the game to face Longoria. "My job is to get the right people in the right places,'' he said.
Longoria's homer gave the Rays the win, but Joyce's, off starter C.J. Wilson, may have been more significant because it may have finally earned the majors' leading hitter (.370) the chance for everyday duty. It was his second homer off a left-hander this season, and in a span of 12 at-bats (after none in the first 67), and came after two singles off a lefty Monday, raising his average against them to .250. It was just the second homer Wilson has allowed to a lefty in three years.
"I hope so,'' Joyce said. "I don't know what else you've got to do.''
Maddon concurred, saying that pitches Joyce are laying off from lefties are just as telling as the ones he is hitting: "Right now obviously he's earned the stripes to get out there a little more often against lefties.''
Longoria earned something with his performance, too: a chance to show emotion on the field, thrusting his fist in the air.
"I had to,'' he said. "It was just a reaction in that situation. It's been a struggle over the past couple weeks for me, so to come through in a situation like that, it was exciting."