Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Longoria letting bat do talking as he leads Rays out of slump (w/ video)

MINNEAPOLIS

As the injuries mounted and the losses piled up over the past couple of weeks, the Rays needed someone to come forward and lead them through the abyss.

Evan Longoria — for all his time and records in a Tampa Bay uniform, and for all the numbers on his stat sheet as well as his contract — is not one to step to the front of the room.

"You know me, I've never been a vocal guy," he said. "I've never been a rah-rah guy. I've never been that kind of guy. So it's a little tough for me to do that."

What he would rather do is step up to the plate.

And let Sunday's powerful performance in the Rays' dramatic 7-5 win over the Twins, capping a big weekend and extending a hot couple of weeks, show just how effective leading by example can be.

Longoria hit a tying homer in the sixth inning. He hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth. And after the Rays gave the lead away then took it back in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, he singled in a key insurance run.

"It's the most important thing. It's what makes it all worth it," Longoria said. "You really want to be able to do that when the team needs you the most."

The Rays had fallen into a funk since Kevin Kiermaier broke his left hand on May 21, losing 11 of 13 until beating the Twins three in a row, with fingers being pointed and questions raised about focus, heart and leadership.

That Longoria would be the one doing the most during a critical juncture to get them righted really shouldn't be a surprise.

"Evan Longoria has been in every great thing the Rays have accomplished in their history … right in the thick of all of it," manager Kevin Cash said. "For a team that was probably in need of a player like that over the last 10 days, two weeks, he has been just unbelievable the way he has really carried the load."

Over his past nine games, Longoria is hitting .457 (16-for-35). Over the weekend, he homered in each of the four games — the first time he went deep in four straight — and five times total with the pair on Sunday.

"Longo being Longo, being an All-Star," said Logan Morrison, who lent a hand with a pair of homers himself Sunday. "He's an amazing player, fun to watch. … That's why he's the man."

Longoria, 30, would like to think it's more than just a hot streak.

Three or four weeks into the season he started tinkering with his swing, and he got increasingly comfortable with some adjustments during a West Coast trip in early May.

"Kind of one of those moments when you realize something you did earlier in your career isn't going to work the whole time," he said. "I widened out my swing a little bit, and it enabled me to see the ball a little better. It took place gradually. And now I feel like I'm in a really good spot."

There's something to that, as he has hits in 21 of his past 24 games, batting .344 over that stretch.

Also, he seems free of the nagging injuries, such as last year's sore wrist, and more pliable after returning to his offseason yoga program.

That's how it looks from the mound, anyway, to current Twins and former Rays reliever Kevin Jepsen.

"Everybody knows what type of player he is. He's shown it," Jepsen said. "I think you're seeing a fully healthy Longoria. I think it's been a couple years he's been battling just some minor stuff. He's always on the field. But him being out there and being fully healthy, I think everybody knows what you're going to get from him."

Longoria has, in a way, been a victim of his own early success, not quite measuring up after averaging 28 homers and 100 RBIs for his first four seasons and making the All-Star team three times. Averaging 23 and 77 and not making any All-Star teams in the four years since seemed fallow.

This year, so far anyway, has been different, on pace for some impressive numbers: 41 homers, 100 RBIs and a team-record 88 extra-base hits. And he looks to be the Rays' top candidate for the All-Star trip to San Diego.

"It just shows me his potential," outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. "He had a stretch where he was among the top five players in baseball. And it's still in there. I think that's what he's showing, that he's not losing any steps. He's had maybe not the years he thinks he can have, but still, they've been great years.

"But what he's doing right now is huge for our team."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

 
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