Will Longoria play long enough to escape rut?

by Gary Shelton on July 18, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Longoria rounds the bases after hitting a home run to beat Orioles.

Longoria rounds the bases after hitting a home run to beat Orioles.

Monday, 6 a.m.

Longoria already has 21 home runs this year.

Longoria already has 21 home runs this year.

You're lucky, you tell yourself.

You're blessed.

No one on earth is going to feel sorry for Evan Longoria. You have plenty of wealth, and you have sufficient fame. You spend your days in luxury hotels and your nights in manufactured ballparks. You have a gorgeous wife and terrific kids. You are the face of a franchise, even if it's only this one. With the possible exception of a ground ball off the wrist, there is nothing to complain about.

Still, you think.

Still, you miss winning.

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Kevin Cash finally ended a baseball game with a smile.

Kevin Cash finally ended a baseball game with a smile.

Yeah, the games could matter more, and more fans could attend. That would be fun. The team could be in a playoff race. You miss those. There might be other third bases in other cities where it matters more. There are probably times that occurs to you.

And you wonder. At 30, is this how it will be from now on?

The Rays' attempts at rebuilding have not gone well. There isn't enough pitching for most days, and when there is, there isn't enough hitting. The defense is slow. The baserunning is a rumor. And the team loses on most days.

#13 Brad Miller hits a home run (1 of 1)

Brad Miller connected again for Tampa Bay.

So you say the same positives, and you try to believe. You tell people that leadership does not come naturally to you, but this is where they look, and this is where the tape recorders listen. You are the best player here; no wonder they look at you. And you cannot blink, because if you do, the entire franchise will shudder.

Longoria hit two home runs Sunday, and the Rays beat a first place team for the first time in 20 days, and it felt like a large weight being lifted off. Someone slaps you every day you wake up, every day you draw breath, and then one day they do not. And it feels terrific. It feels special. It feels like something you should do again someday.

“It is a good start,” Longoria said. “I know it took us two games after the second half, but the two games prior to today we played well. Our pitching staff and our starters went out and set the tempo and got us on the right track for the second half. Hopefully, today we can carry that momentum on the road with us.”

It's a shame that Longoria doesn't like this role, because he's pretty good at it. He speaks well as a team leader, the perspective dripping off of him, the belief shining through.

Aria connected in the Rays' four-homer attack.

Arcia connected in the Rays' four-homer attack.

Still, this is a day when it is easy to share your belief. The pitching has thrown three straight good games and, around here, that's pretty much the meaning of life.

“Runs early, no matter what you are going through, whether you are losing, is a big deal,” Longoria said. “It just gives them that confidence boost. I think our pitching staff is solid. They are the same guys we have had and we all believe in them that they are going to come around. The start to the second half is pretty indicative to what they are capable of.”

For Longoria, this has been a season of revival. Two years ago, he had 22 home runs in 700 plate appearances. Last year, he had 21 in 670. This year, he already has 21 in 384. He seems on his way to more than 30 for only the fourth time. His OPS is at .869, the highest it's been since 2011. His batting average and slugging percentage are at their highest point since 2012.

Consider this: Longoria is one of three third basemen in major league history (Eddie Matthews and Scott Rolen) to have eight 20 homer seasons in his first nine years.

Ah, but the importance this time wasn't to measure history. It was to describe the rare feeling of victory in the Rays clubhouse.

Oh, it's only one game. Everyone knows that. The Rays have still lost 12 of 14 and nine of 10. They've still lost 24 of 28. No one is printing playoff tickets.

It's odd. In some ways, I think of Evan Longoria as a modern-day version of Dan Marino. Marino entered the league with a team that had been to the Super Bowl, and in most years, he lost weapons around him, especially in his offensive line. Now look around, where other athletes are stacking the deck so they can win. And here sits Longoria. Wouldn't playing for the Rays get tiresome?

Longoria made the playoffs in four of his first six seasons. But the Rays are 115-138 over the last year and a half. Ask yourself: What will that record be over the next year and a half?

Is this how it will be? Will there be more defeats that don't matter in a stadium that doesn't draw fans? Will there be more empty baseball?

And how are the Rays, and Longoria, to avoid it?

Colombia finally got his 20th save for the Rays.

Colome finally got his 20th save for the Rays.

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