Rays manager Joe Maddon challenged his team in spring training, saying it had plenty of players who were capable of earning a Gold Glove, and offering a lofty goal of winning nine.
The Rays didn't complete that feat, but they did have a Gold Glove Award winner for the second straight year as Evan Longoria won the award Tuesday as the American League's best-fielding third baseman.
Longoria, 24, is the youngest to win an AL Gold Glove at any position since A's third baseman Eric Chavez (age 23) in 2001 and the second player in club history to earn the award (first baseman Carlos Peña won in 2008).
"It's the one award that I've wanted to win since I started pro ball," Longoria said in a statement. "I take a lot of pride in my defense, so this award is very special to me. It's humbling to have your name associated with some of the great players who have won a Gold Glove, especially the third basemen. I would like to thank the managers and coaches who voted for me and I'd also like to thank Carlos Peña. We all know how good he is. He probably saved me at least five errors this year so without him the award might not have been possible."
Longoria had a .970 fielding percentage, second among AL third basemen to Melvin Mora's .971. The two-time All-Star often made difficult plays look easy, earning praise from managers around the league as well as former stars. Since the Gold Glove was first awarded in 1957, only three third basemen have won it at a younger age: Chavez, the Orioles' Brooks Robinson (23 in 1960) and the Phillies' Scott Rolen (23 in 1998).
There is a Gold Glove winner at each position in each league, selected by a vote of the league's managers and coaches, who can't pick players on their own team. The only difference comes in the outfield voting, which rewards the three top fielding outfielders no matter if they play left, center or rightfield.
There were thoughts that All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford had a chance to win his first Gold Glove after a strong defensive season, highlighted by a spectacular leaping catch in the All-Star Game which helped him earn MVP honors. But Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter each won their ninth Gold Glove in the outfield, and Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones picked up his first.
For Longoria, the award caps off an impressive second big-league season in which he came up big both at the plate (33 homers, 113 RBIs) and with his glove.
"Evan's offense gets so much publicity that it's easy to overlook how skilled he is in the field," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "Evan takes so much pride in his defense, and it's something that we really value. We're happy for him and glad to see him recognized in this way."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.