Friday, 6 a.m.
Maybe it happened on a walk. Just a run-of-the-mill, take-your-base stroll down to first. Maybe no one noticed anything special.
Maybe it happened on a tying home run in the eighth inning the night before. Maybe it happened as the crowds cheered the way they used to, as the batter grinned going around the bases in the old days.
Maybe it happened on a defensive play, a spinning double-play off a shot down the line. Maybe he swallowed a rocket and threw to second to cut down a runner.
A million plays, in 1,243 games. The memorable home runs. The home runs his critics thought were lonely home runs. The
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leadership. The RBI. The plays where he charged slow rollers. Every night, solid as a rock.
And somewhere along the line, Evan Longoria became the best Tampa Bay Ray there ever was.
For years, people would talk to me about the best Rays of them all, and I would shrug. I saw how consistent Carl Crawford was, after all. To me, that's where the arguments started and stopped for years. You could argue for David Price, maybe, or Carlos Pena. For Ben Zobrist or for James Shields.
No more. This 30-home run season has put Longoria over the
top if he was not there already. If you are talking great Rays, start with the name Longoria.
He needs a clipboard, you know. Watch him stride through the clubhouse, trying to squeeze 65 minutes of work into an hour, rarely stopping by his locker, rarely spending time with small talk. He is always late for the train, always in a hurry to catch the next bus.
Baseball was never a stroll through the park for Longo. The young players pay attention to the way he goes about it. If Longoria can push it, they can push it, too.
“He's a true professional,” said Mikie Mahtook. “He's one of the first guys here every day. He's the same guy everyday. He works hard. He's a leader by example. You see what he does and you want to emulate that. To have a guy like you're able to follow is huge.”
Is the year Longoria is having an answer to his critics from the start of the year?
“I think so,” Mahtook said. “Any time a guy has a year like this, it's good. I don't think he listens to the noise, though. He knows how good he is. He knows what kind of players he is. The last couple of years might not be what they were when he was younger, but we all knew who he was and we expected to have this year. That's the kind of player he is.”
Longoria said he takes pride in being an example.
“I've been in both roles, obviously,” he said. “As a younger player, I appreciated the older players we had. We had some great one s here. Now, being in the situation they were and being able to have some influence on younger guys and show them how to do things the right way an play the game the right way. I take pride in that role.”
No, Longo said, his year was not an answer to those who criticized.
“It's satisfaction for myself personally,” Longoria said. “I put the pressure on myself. I expect certain things out of myself. I know the kind of player I can be. People are going to say what they want about a player. But comes down to your own personal will to succeed.”
And so, does Longo think he's surpassed his former teammates.
He grins. He isn't going to fall for a question like that.
“I have tremendous respect for Carl,” he said. “And for Carlos and for Ben. It's cool to have been here for my whole career and have some numbers approaching theirs.”
Both Longo and Crawford were here for nine seasons. Longo has passed Crawford in games played. And in RBI. And in total bases. “But not triples,” Longoria said. “I won't ever get him in triples.”
Maybe not. Or in stolen bases. Longoria is gaining in hits, however. And he has more than double the home runs.
At the end the day, who would you pick first? Longoria or Crawford.
I'm going Longo.