ST. PETERSBURG — The joy on the field was abundant Saturday night, Rays players rushing to home plate to celebrate after Evan Longoria's two-out, two-run homer gave them a day-saving 8-7 walkoff victory over the Padres.
"A win is a win, a walkoff win is even better," Longoria said. "You need games like this, whether it's myself or anybody else coming through in the clutch, to kind of boost morale and hopefully jump-start everything. So, yes, today was big."
But the celebratory mood did not extend to the manager's office, where Joe Maddon was more annoyed, and borderline ranting, about what almost happened — again.
The Rays and Jeremy Hellickson tossed away another large lead, 6-2 going to the seventh, and would have taken another staggering loss had Ben Zobrist not battled back from a 1-and-2 count, saved by a dropped foul tip, for a tremendous two-out walk and Longoria not followed with the homer off Huston Street.
"We've had those already this year. It would have been just among the top three worst losses of the year," Maddon said. "Right there, to be able to come back, it's outstanding, it's wonderful, it's part of the game. But I would rather be good than lucky.
"We cannot afford that. That's not going to happen very often. That is the anomaly thing right there. We're fortunate Longo was in the right spot, we're fortunate that Zo gets it as a hitter, that you have all that talent and it comes together at that particular moment.
"But you can't go to the dance playing like that. When you get leads, you've got to put the other team away. That is inappropriate. That's got to stop. I'm not happy with that. …
"We want to play in October, we've got to be better than that. That cannot happen. You're not going to be lucky. You've got to be good."
It all had seemed good for the Rays — who still got back to .500, at 18-18, for the first time since being 3-3 April 7 — when they took a 6-2 lead after an 11-batter second inning and Hellickson, after giving up two in the first, retired 16 in a row.
But Hellickson made a small mistake at the start of the seventh, walking Carlos Quentin on a 3-and-2 pitch he regretted, then a much bigger one, giving up a tying grand slam on a full-count changeup to pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman that Maddon said was inexcusable.
"(With) Guzman, he should have been able to do something right there," Maddon said. "I felt very strongly. … He's better than all of that. He had it on cruise control. He pitched very well. One walk, eight punchouts, but right there under those circumstances he has the ability to put that hitter away right there and get himself a win."
After Zobrist did his part — "From the start of the at-bat, I was just trying to find a way to get on base" — Longoria did his. He looked bad swinging at a 1-and-0 slider, made an adjustment to get his foot down sooner, and looked pretty good on the next swing at 2-and-1, crushing the ball to left-center for his team-record fifth walkoff homer and first since 2011's Game 162 dramatics.
"It doesn't get any better than that," Longoria said. "Being able to be in that moment, and come through."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]