ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria says he comes to the ballpark feeling a certain amount of pressure to produce, to find a way — offensively or defensively — to help the Rays win.
"Every day," he said, smiling.
That's what comes with being a three-time All-Star, a face of the franchise and, more recently, the cleanup hitter. And though Longoria had battled a slump for much of the past month, he has picked a great time to put it all together.
Longoria racked up three hits and four RBIs Wednesday, including his first homer in three weeks, as the Rays beat the Rangers 8-6 to earn a confidence-building three-game sweep over a potential playoff opponent in front of 19,413 at Tropicana Field.
"We were functioning on all different cylinders," manager Joe Maddon said. "When you draw it up in the beginning, this is what it's supposed to look like."
Tampa Bay got a strong seven-inning outing from right-hander James Shields and boasted typically sharp defense. But to have Longoria pick up eight RBIs in a series in which the entire lineup seemed to click can mean a lot to the Rays (74-46), still tied with the Yankees atop the AL East.
"I go into slumps or times when I'm getting the pitches I know I can hit and I'm not hitting them," Longoria said. "Then you get into a series like this last one, where it seems like every time I swing the bat, I'm hitting it on the barrel, and it's finding a gap or finding a hole.
"This was a big series for me; hopefully I can continue."
Longoria had plenty of help. There was Shields (11-11), who went seven innings for the second time in his past 10 starts. Like his dominating performance against the Yankees two weeks ago, the key was his fastball command and ability to repeat his delivery.
"He's gotten his confidence back," B.J. Upton said. "When he's that way, he's a very good pitcher."
There was the top of the lineup, which was at the top of its game. Upton had two hits, including a homer, and both Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford reached base twice. The 1-through-4 hitters scored 18 of the team's 24 runs in this series.
"Our offense has been hit or miss now and then," Bartlett said. "So it's nice this time of year to get things jelling."
And to have Longoria there to clean up. Maddon said the difference has been hitting "his pitch" instead of taking it or fouling off. As a result, Longoria, who entered the series with four RBIs in his past 14 games, doubled that total in the sweep, and his 16th homer snapped a 19-game drought.
"When your big guys become your big guys at the right time, it definitely changes the complexion of the night," Maddon said.
The Rays acknowledged that Texas was without some key players, such as Michael Young and Nelson Cruz.
"We'll be better equipped the next time we see them,'' Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They beat us, I make no excuse for that. Just so happens that sometime down the line, we see these guys again, then come ask me that question and see what happens. Stay tuned."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.