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Rays' Longoria making the clutch seem routine

OAKLAND, Calif. — Rookie 3B Evan Longoria has shown impressive skills offensively and defensively during the 5½ weeks since his earlier-than-expected promotion.

But he has also shown something more impressive: the ability to make big plays, and a knack for doing them at key times.

"Certain players have an ability to slow the game down as the game pressure intensifies, and Evan is definitely one of those players," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Tuesday. "Our scouts noted that about him as an amateur, and we have seen it repeatedly with him as a pro."

One example came in the fifth inning Monday, when the 22-year-old made a play worthy of a savvy veteran.

As he watched Gregorio Petit's bunt roll slowly along the line, Longoria noticed that runner Kurt Suzuki had taken a wide turn at second. He snatched up the ball and fired to shortstop Jason Bartlett, who tagged out Suzuki to snuff a rally that kept the Rays within 3-2 in a game they won 7-6 in 13 innings.

Longoria had a hand in the ending, too, hitting a massive two-run homer in the 13th off ex-Ray Chad Gaudin, providing the margin of victory as Troy Percival allowed one run but stranded an Oakland runner at third for his 12th save in a game that ended shortly after 2 a.m. Tampa Bay time.

Of Longoria's five home runs, two have been game-winners in the Rays' last at-bat, and a third tied it in the seventh.

Manager Joe Maddon offered a simple but telling description: "He's a baseball player."

ON A ROLL: RHP Andy Sonnanstine starts today seeking to extend his winning streak to six games, and to match Scott Kazmir as the quickest Ray to seven wins.

To do so, Sonnanstine has to continue to make his fastball his primary pitch and use it to set up his assortment of off-speed stuff.

That has been a central theme, reinforced often by the Rays and recently in a call from his former coach at Kent State.

"We've just got to keep, keep telling him in between starts," Maddon said. "It almost seems like we do and after three-four starts in a row he reverts back to being the deceptionist. And then things normally don't go that well and you've got say, 'Sonny …' and he says, 'I know, I know.' "

Sonnanstine insists he is trying. "It's tough; the game kind of engulfs you sometimes and makes you stray from the plan," he said. "You don't even know you're doing it. As long as I stay focused and stick to the game plan I think we'll have a lot of success this year."

DAY OF REST: Hot-hitting 2B Akinori Iwamura got his oft-delayed day off Tuesday, out of the lineup for the first time since April 15. Maddon chose Tuesday because A's starter Greg Smith is tougher on lefties than today's starter, Dana Eveland, and because with the Rays off Thursday he didn't want Iwamura sitting for two days.

REHAB REPORT: INF Willy Aybar, the opening day third baseman who was sidelined shortly thereafter by a left hamstring strain, is on a rehab assignment with Class A Vero Beach and about seven to 10 days away from returning — though his role is unclear.

MISCELLANY: The Rays had Edwin Jackson hold off on his usual between-starts workout Tuesday in case he was needed in relief since the bullpen was a bit thin. … Saturday's first pitch is an hour earlier, at 6:10 p.m., to accommodate a postgame concert by the Commodores. … RHP James Shields said one reason he gave up three homers Monday was a narrow strike zone by home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. … Bob Rose, who directed the opening of Tropicana Field in 1990 and helped with the bid for baseball, was named PR director of the A's. … Senior adviser Don Zimmer and assistant to the pitching coach Brian Anderson are the team reps for the June 5 draft at Disney.

Rays' Longoria making the clutch seem routine 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 11:49am]
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