TORONTO — Evan Longoria couldn't wait to get to the end of the road.
A good start to the season had quickly turned bad, and between an extended slump at the plate and an unusually bad night in the field, he came into Thursday's finale to the Rays' 10-day, three-city journey with as many hits over his last six games as errors (three). And the Rogers Centre fans, sparse but outspoken, were riding him extensively for it.
But Longoria had the final say, driving in four runs, including a massive homer, to cap the trip with a 9-4 victory over the Blue Jays and send the Rays home with a winning record at 7-6 overall.
"Like I'll always say, it's about winning," the third baseman said. "On a tough road trip, all those day games in a row, all the adversity that we dealt with, to go home with our head above water, so to speak, after a real tough road trip with a two-game winning streak and some good momentum is a big positive."
Longoria took care of the offense, with help from Desmond Jennings, who hit his first homer of 2012 (11th of his career, his sixth against Toronto). Jeremy Hellickson delivered a good-but-not-great start, holding the Jays to three runs (two earned) but working only into the sixth. And of the 10 outs left to the bullpen, J.P. Howell got by far the biggest, retiring Adam Lind on a line drive with the bases loaded to preserve a three-run margin in the sixth.
After losing five of the first six games in Detroit and Boston, the Rays took the finale against the Red Sox and two of three in Toronto to finish the trip 4-6. "A better sounding road trip," manager Joe Maddon said.
After 10 hits in his first 20 at-bats of the season, Longoria had gone cold, with just a 3-for-25 to show for the last week. But he singled in the first to give the Rays the lead; blasted a homer, his first since opening day, to center — the ball striking the façade under the glass of the centerfield restaurant — to extend a 4-3 lead to 6-3 in the fifth; and doubled in a run in the ninth.
"He's definitely going to be there when you need it," Maddon said. "He's not going to be knocked down in any way, shape or form by what's perceived to be a bad day. He's a true professional. He comes ready every day, his work ethic is stellar. So it does not surprise me."
"That's what he can do," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "That's what he does."
Once the Rays got the lead, the challenge was keeping it.
Hellickson was done after walking Yunel Escobar on his 106th pitch in the sixth, his third two-out walk of the night.
"Stupid," Hellickson said.
Maddon plotted to mix and match from there, insisting he would have warmed up three pitchers if there were enough mounds.
He went first to Jake McGee, who allowed a ground ball single to Kelly Johnson. Then Burke Badenhop didn't risk challenging slugger Jose Bautista, walking him on five pitches.
That led to Howell, facing Lind with the bases loaded and the game on the line. Howell got Lind on a liner right at first baseman Peña.
"Anytime I get one of those I'm pretty excited about it," Howell said.
By the end of the night, all the Rays were excited based on the noise coming from their clubhouse. And the relative lack of it from the crowd.
"They're never going to stop," Longoria said. "But to silence them a little bit is a good thing."