ANAHEIM, Calif. — The back-to-back-to-back homers were of historical significance, the first in Rays franchise history. But not enough to top a good homecoming story.
Evan Longoria grew up an Angels fan about a half-hour north and went to college a half-hour west at Long Beach State, and he was "really excited" about playing in Anaheim, which he said is "pretty much like playing in your own back yard."
With nearly 100 friends and relatives in the stands, and not hiding their allegiance, the rookie third baseman put on quite a show, hitting two home runs (including the first of the three straight in the second inning), adding an RBI double and scoring four times to lead the Rays to a 13-4 win in the opening game of their only (regular-season) visit to Southern California.
"Shoot, what a homecoming for me," Longoria said. "It's a great feeling to be able to do what I did tonight."
It was a good night all around for the visitors. Joe Maddon won for the first time in Anaheim as a visiting manager, having gone 0-8 his first two seasons since coming to the Rays from the Angels. Edwin Jackson earned his fourth win, one fewer than he had all of last season. Dioner Navarro continued his response to Sunday's dugout dustup with Matt Garza with four more hits (matching his career high), making him 6-for-8 since the midgame incident.
And the Rays again showed the impressive ability to put controversy and an ugly loss behind them, improving to 38-26 and moving back to within one game of the idle first-place Red Sox. (And, for what it's worth, opening a 3½-game lead over Oakland in the AL wild-card race.)
"My bigger concern more than getting a win here is the fact that we play division champion type teams well on the road and are able to beat them in their own ballpark,'' Maddon said. "That's what you have to do at the end of the year.''
The Rays' runs came in bunches — three in the third, five in the fifth and two in the seventh and ninth.
The first three were notable, the first time they hit three consecutive homers after 1,680 games, 57,661 at-bats and 64,094 plate appearances in 11 seasons. And all in a span of 12 pitches off Angels ace Joe Saunders.
Longoria had the first on a 1-and-0 pitch, and it was a blast deep into the leftfield seats. Willy Aybar followed on another 1-and-0 pitch. And Navarro worked through eight pitches before hitting the third.
Longoria's was quite a blast, a rare shot deep into the leftfield seats beyond the bullpens, that was unofficially estimated at more than 450 feet. (They don't do "official" estimates at Angel Stadium.) Maddon had his own scale: "You rarely see balls go back there even in batting practice. In a game, I think I've seen A-Rod go back there, and that was it.''
Though Saunders came into the game with an American League-high-matching nine wins and a third-lowest 2.63 ERA, he was somewhat vulnerable to right-handed hitters, and Maddon stacked the lineup with six right-handed or switch hitters Plus, they made him work, forcing him out with 103 pitches in less than five innings.
Longoria homered again in the ninth, giving him an AL rookie-high 10 for the season. And then he planned to visit with his parents, two younger brothers and a sister.
After Jackson gave up the 3-0 lead, allowing single runs in the second and third and a two-run home run to Torii Hunter in the fourth, the Rays rallied again, this time scoring five in the fifth, and all after there were two outs.
For a guy who blew a three-run lead and gave up 10 hits, Jackson still had a good night, holding the AL West-leading Angels to four runs over seven innings and hitting 97 mph frequently on the stadium radar gun.
"I thought Jackson had great stuff, not just okay,'' Maddon said. "I wanted him to really focus —his stuff was way too good to not get deep into that game.''
It was his second win in his past four starts, though his first on the road since his season debut April 5 in New York.
"I went out there with the mentality to be aggressive and make them hit the ball, and they found ways to hit it,'' Jackson said. "After I gave up the big home run (a two-run shot to Torii Hunter to put the Angels up 4-3), I was saying just hold them and not let them get any more.''
Like just about everything else the Rays did Monday, it worked.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.