ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria's best birthday ever began with some special gifts.
His girlfriend, Jaime Edmondson, gave him a guitar signed by Slash (of Guns N' Roses). Then their baby daughter, Elle, topped it with a photo of her in a little Longoria uniform, plus a plate she made at a pottery shop with her hand print on it.
"I'm excited to put it on the mantle," Longoria said.
Then, Longoria, 28, put the Rays on his back, delivering the tying — and game-changing — three-run homer in the fifth inning of the Rays' 5-4 walkoff win over the Red Sox, forcing a Game 4 tonight at Tropicana Field.
Sunday, Longoria said he wasn't done playing baseball this year. Monday night, he helped make sure the Rays weren't either.
"For as many times as I'm able to come through in those moments, that's why I'm here," Longoria said. "And that, I think, hopefully is what the fan base expects out of me and in turn I expect that out of myself."
The Rays were in trouble, down 3-0 to the Red Sox in the fifth inning. Boston starter Clay Buchholz had thrown 17 consecutive scoreless innings against Tampa Bay.
But with two on and two outs, Longoria delivered, hitting a changeup into the leftfield seats, and flipping the momentum.
"When we were down by three in that inning, it was like — we never give up but we were a little bit down," said catcher Jose Lobaton, who hit the winning homer with two outs in the ninth. "It was like, "Wow,' we've got to score three runs.' After we saw the ball in (the seats), The energy came back. Everyone was like, "We've got a chance.' "
That was no surprise to manager Joe Maddon, who is used to seeing Longoria shine in the big moments. It was Longoria's ninth career postseason homer, not including his unforgettable Game 162 blast.
"Longo's been the boulder pusher around here," Maddon said. "Every time things seem bleak offensively, he picks us up. We needed that badly, there's no denying it. Among the group everybody is going to look for that guy to lead you and he did, he put us back in the race."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.