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Home run by Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria takes its spot among the greats

ARLINGTON, Texas

Your grandchildren will see the images. His, too.

Years from now, when Evan Longoria's hair is white and his grandchildren are in his living room, they will gather to watch the Shot Heard Across Tampa Bay once more. They will delight in the way he turned on the fastball, driving it to the leftfield corner.

They will grin at how fast he sprinted out of the batter's box. They will tease him about the way his hands shot into the air in exultation of the moment.

The pictures will never change.

Every time, he will circle the bases of an electric Tropicana Field, running briskly, as if he could not wait to touch home plate. Always, he will clap his hands together as he passes first. Eternally, he will have that little kid's joy written on his face.

With every replay, with every retelling, he will spike his helmet on his way to the plate as he ran into the celebratory mob of teammates that waited at the plate.

It belongs to forever now, the midnight drive of Evan Longoria. When people talk of iconic home runs, when fans compare magical moments, this one will be in the conversation.

He is in the company of the immortals now. Bobby Thomson and Bill Mazeroski and Kirk Gibson and Bucky Dent and Joe Carter and Reggie Jackson and Carlton Fisk and all of the rest. He has hit a home run for the ages, and he has circled the history books.

For a man of 25, all of this talk of history is a little overwhelming.

It is too early in the career for defining moments.

The names seem too big, the legends seem too entrenched. Most of the names people are tossing at Longoria have been revered longer than he has been alive.

That said, if you want to measure Longoria's home run, it is history you use as a ruler. That's the reason the Hall of Fame called and asked for Longoria's bat (which he gave them). As long as there is baseball, people are going to talk about it.

Think about this: Of all the seasons in baseball, of all the players who have played it, there are only two men who have hit a walkoff home run to propel their team into the postseason.

One of those was Thomson, back in 1951.

The other is Longoria.

"It's got to be in the top 10 ever," said Rays first baseman Dan Johnson.

"I'd say top five," said DH Johnny Damon.

"To me, it's No. 1," said pitcher James Shields. "They'll show it forever."

Boiled down to its basics, sports is a place where athletes are asked to measure up to moments. Nothing defines a player more than accomplishment in the most pressurized moments.

Such was the situation when Longoria stood at the plate, facing a 2-and-2 count in the bottom of the 12th inning. It had been a wacky enough day, and for much of it, it seemed as if the Rays' season was struggling to breathe. Boston had a lead, and the Rays had a deficit, which is pretty much the way the season had gone.

Then came the noise from the stands, the kind of sharp eruption that isn't heard often enough at Tropicana Field. It was so loud, so explosive, that Longoria had to step out of the batter's box to gather his focus.

Then came the swing and a drive that was just enough to clear the short fence in the leftfield corner.

"It was like, 'No way is this happening,' " Longoria said Thursday. "At first, I was thinking, 'Stay fair.'

"It was surreal. It was a crazy feeling."

For Longoria, it has been a crazy season.

He missed a month with a rib injury, and for another month, the injury affected his approach. Down the stretch, however, Longoria has been the driving force of the Rays' offense.

He has hit longer home runs, of course.

He has been in the big leagues only four seasons, but already he has 113 homers and 403 RBIs.

He has played in All-Star Games, and he has been in a World Series, and he has been in a few commercials.

This is better, however. This was a home run to lift a team into the playoffs. This was a young player turning the most dramatic moment of the season into a personal highlight.

"It was truly astonishing," said manager Joe Maddon. "But it was believable that he would do it.

"You hear the cheer, you see the number go up on the board. Baltimore beats Boston. Why not hit a home run there?"

Maddon compares Longoria's homer to that of Thomson, and that of Dent, and that of Carter, and that of Gibson. It was all of that.

It guaranteed the playoffs, like Thomson's. It came on a 2-and-2 pitch, like Carter's. It was emotional, like Gibson's. And it ruined the day for the Red Sox, like Dent's.

This one, however, was Tampa Bay's.

A day later, it still feels huge. It still feels like magic.

A hundred years from now, one suspects, it will feel the same.

Home run by Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria takes its spot among the greats 09/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 1:07am]
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