ST. PETERSBURG — On "70s Night" at the Trop, it was one of the players not yet born in the disco decade who stole the show.
Rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, riding a recent hot streak, came through with the best offensive performance of his young career, ripping homers in his first two at-bats. The 22-year-old finished with a career-high six RBIs — one shy of tying a team record — to give Edwin Jackson some rare run support in an 11-4 win over the Orioles on Saturday in front of 30,445, many donning blue disco wigs.
Longoria "is an incredibly talented player; those are just flashes of what he's capable of doing," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "It's going to be fun watching his career. I'm just glad I'm along to enjoy it. … The sky is the limit for him."
Pena was far from a bystander, breaking through a recent slump with three hits and falling a homer short of the cycle. And with the Rays' (29-20) bats having not fully clicked during their resurgence — franchise-high nine games over .500 — Saturday gave them a glimpse of what they're capable of when their hitting catches up with their hurlers. The AL East's second-place team plays its next eight at home, where it has won 14 of its past 15.
"(The hitters) will start feeding off themselves like the pitching staff has, like the defense has," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have good offensive players, we just haven't hit our stride yet, but it's coming."
The Rays, batting .258 going in, gave Jackson more runs Saturday than they had during his past seven winless starts (nine).
Jackson (3-3) sure needed it. The 24-year-old said he never felt comfortable on the mound, and it showed as walked four of the first six batters he faced. But Baltimore couldn't take advantage, and a big reason why was Pena, who had made two great defensive plays Friday and came up with the biggest one Saturday.
With the bases loaded and one out in the first, Pena grabbed a slow chopper by Luke Scott, tagging Kevin Millar before tossing it to Jackson at first for an inning-ending double play.
The offense then gave Jackson a hefty lead in the bottom half, as Pena hit an RBI double and Longoria ripped a 458-foot three-run homer off struggling Orioles starter Steve Trachsel (2-5).
Following four straight two-out hits by the Rays in the second — including Longoria's second homer of the night, a two-run shot — the Rays were up 9-1, and the veteran right-hander's night was over. "Home runs are kind of accidents," Longoria said. "I'm just looking to hit mistakes."
Jackson, who said it was just "one of those nights where nothing feels right," gutted out five innings, giving up three runs and five walks, before handing the ball to the bullpen.
While Pena's chance for the cycle ended when he was pulled in the eighth ("Just wanted to get him off his feet," Maddon said), Longoria's career night could have been bigger. In the eighth, batting with the bases loaded and nobody out, Longoria's liner to first base was right at Millar, who started a 3-6 double play.
"I squared the ball up," Longoria said. "He was just standing right where I hit it."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.