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Longoria's injury leaves Rays' biggest hole yet

Pick any one of the other 24 players.

Starter or reliever, infielder or outfielder, it doesn't matter.

You could lose any one of those guys, maybe two, and it wouldn't be as frightening as Monday's news that Evan Longoria has a fractured wrist and a reserved seat on the disabled list.

He is the closest thing the Rays have to an MVP candidate, and now he will miss the next 10 games and perhaps half a dozen more.

For the longest time, we have wanted to understand the emotion of a real pennant race. Well, now we're about to find out. The thrills, the pain, the fear. Sort of like childbirth, except the beer is colder.

"It doesn't do any good to dwell on it," front office chief Andrew Friedman said.

That's good, because I was planning to skip dwell and head straight toward obsess.

Seriously, this is about as bad as it can get for Tampa Bay. There is not another player in the clubhouse who is quite so irreplaceable as Longoria, and I wouldn't have said that three months ago.

Once, I would have suggested it was Scott Kazmir. But Kazmir has struggled for a couple of months, and David Price is like a shiny new toy waiting to be shipped from Triple A.

Another time, I would have mentioned Troy Percival. But that was before Grant Balfour appeared out of nowhere and started pitching like a closer's apprentice.

You see, the problem with losing Longoria is not just that he is their best hitter and a Gold Glove-caliber infielder. It's that the Rays do not have anyone close waiting in the wings.

Make no mistake, it will hurt the Rays that Carl Crawford is also on the disabled list. You're talking about a two-time All-Star who brings speed and defense to the lineup.

But, with a combination of Justin Ruggiano and Gabe Gross, it is possible to approximate what Crawford has done in 2008. Let's face it, as good as he is, Crawford is having a down year.

His power has slipped, his on-base percentage is way down, and he's not stealing nearly as many bases. And, while he may be one of the better defensive leftfielders around, it is not the most demanding of positions.

This is why Longoria's loss is so critical. No matter how you slice it, there is no way Ben Zobrist and Willy Aybar come close to matching what Longoria has done this season.

Power? Longoria was on pace for 30 homers and almost 40 doubles. Defense? Longoria could challenge Scott Rolen and Mike Lowell as the best third basemen in the league. Clutch hitting? Don't make me cry.

And there is little hope of the Rays bringing in talent from the outside to replace Longoria. Now that we're past the trading deadline, all players have to pass through waivers before they can be dealt. Since the Red Sox are below the Rays in the standings, they can block any possible waiver moves, as they did with Brian Giles.

There have been times this season when we all have wondered how the Rays have made it this far. They are too young, their payroll is too low, and their bats have too many holes.

They lost Kazmir for a few weeks in April, Percival for a couple of weeks at a time in June and July, Carlos Pena for three weeks in June, Jason Bartlett for three weeks in July and Dioner Navarro for two weeks in April. And they didn't even get Rocco Baldelli until August.

So, yes, this is a team that has shown resilience. It has offered its share of spunk. It has taken the best the Yankees and Red Sox could give, and it still has the American League East lead with 45 games to go.

But, with Longoria and Crawford out simultaneously and the calendar soon to turn its final page on the regular season, the Rays are about to enter a new realm of adversity.

"We've faced quite a bit this year. The combination of the two guys being out probably does (hit a new level)," Friedman said. "We've gotten where we are, based on a combination of different things, different players. My belief is there will be guys who step up during this time period."

Maybe the Rays will get through this, too. Longoria and Crawford will miss the rest of the season's longest road trip, and they'll miss three games against the AL West-leading Angels.

But the good news is Longoria should be back in time for September when the Rays play 13 of 16 games against the Red Sox and Yankees to open the month.

So, if you are an optimist, the pennant is still Tampa Bay's to win.

Of course, if you have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, it might have just landed on Longoria's wrist.

John Romano can be reached at

Longoria's injury leaves Rays' biggest hole yet 08/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 6:22pm]
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