For Longoria, there remains a chance at success

by Gary Shelton on September 8, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Some of his stats are down, but Longoria is winning more./CARMEN MANDATO

Some of his stats are down, but Longoria is winning more./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

You are Evan Longoria, and today matters.

No, it doesn't matter as much as you would like. The Tampa Bay Rays remain three games out of the last wild-card berth. There are as many teams (5) between them and a post-season berth as there are between them and the cellar.

Still, there is a wild-card spot to be won, and the Rays are in the conversation.

Yeah, that's better.

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At 31, Longoria remains a cog for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

At 31, Longoria remains a cog for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

You are Evan Longoria, and there has been a lot of running in place for a very long time.

This time last season, the Rays were 59-80, and it was time to call in the priest. Two years ago, the Rays were 67-69, and they were on the road to nowhere. Three years ago, they were 69-75, and their toes had twitched for the final time. Five years ago, he missed 85 games with a torn hamstring.

Yeah, this is better.

This year, the Rays have a chance. Oh, you can scoff at the size of that chance, and you can marvel at the length of the odds against them. But they have life. That's at least something.

Remember at the beginning of the year, when the conversation had been about the fine career of Longo, and how it might be time for him to get to a contender so he could have another dance in September? Well, Longoria has done it here. That's a good thing.

This is a good thing, too: Imagine, for a moment, that if the Rays get into a playoff for the final wild-card spot. And imagine that that game is tied in the ninth inning. Who would you rather see at the plate for the Rays? Who would you trust with the winning run on base? History says it's Longoria despite the rough patches in his season.

He is hitting .266, and he has had only two seasons where his average was lower. He has 18 home runs, half of what he finished last season with. He has had fewer than 18 home runs but once, and that was in his injury-plagued 2012 season. He would have to average an RBI a game to match last season's total of 98.

Still, if you know Longoria, this is a much better season that he had a year ago. Ninety-eight defeats can grind a man down. Playing on a team that, really, had no chance can make him old and tired.
Longoria had a fine season a year ago, but it wasn't enough.

Longoria needs a strong finish for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Longoria needs a strong finish for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Now, if the Rays can whittle away those three games they are behind, then this year can be a good one.

If you know Longoria, you know he is a serious man whether his role is of a leader or a follower on his team. Throughout the history of the Rays, no one has had more big hits than Longoria. No one has lifted his team higher. But Longoria seems genuine at slapping the palms of other players as they touch home plate, too.

In a way, Longoria is a Dave Andreychuk with this Rays' team. He has had his moments in the spotlight, and he is happy to see others with theirs.

If you are checking the players who have to be stellar for the Rays the rest of the way, you might start with Longoria. If he can recapture his power, and if he can continue to get a couple of hits a night, the Rays will be better off. Oh, you can put Chris Archer into that mix, and Logan Morrison, and Kevin Kiermaier, and Adeiny Hechavarria. But Longoria is a good place to start.

Down-the-stretch is a good time for a baseball team. The schedule is working against the Rays, and young pitchers, and spotty hitting, and the bullpen was hard to watch on Wednesday.

Still, there is a chance. After four seasons of baseball that didn't matter, that's enough.

It's the Longo time of the year.

This year, he counts, too.

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