ARLINGTON, Texas - Evan Longoria is still limping. Now he's also hitting, and the Tampa Bay Rays are headed home, one victory from an improbable comeback.
Longoria snapped out of his postseason slump with a homer and two doubles, Carlos Peña scored twice with a pair of extra-base hits of his own and Tampa Bay escaped elimination again with a 5-2 victory Sunday over the Texas Rangers to force a deciding Game 5 in the AL division series.
“We’ve really battled to get back to even,” Longoria said. “And I think we have a lot of confidence going home, and being able to finish the series in our home ballpark.”
To do that, they’ll have to beat Cliff Lee who matched a postseason best with 10 strikeouts in a 5-1 series-opening victory. The Rays lost the two games at Tropicana Field before winning twice in Texas to push a division series to a fifth game for the first time since the Los Angeles Angels beat the New York Yankees in 2005.
“I still want to believe there is a home-field advantage and hopefully that’s going to show up,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The extra game at home, I have been talking about it all along.”
The series winner hosts Game 1 of the AL championship series Friday night against the Yankees. New York swept Minnesota in three games, clinching the other division series with a 6-1 win Saturday night.
Texas is still the only current major league franchise that has never won a postseason series, and still has not won a playoff game in front of its home fans (0-6).
“It’s down to one game, we’ve got Cliff going and certainly feel good about that,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We have proved that we can win there.”
Tampa Bay sends 19-game winner David Price to the mound Tuesday in a rematch of the Game 1 starters.
“I like our chances with Dave on the mound again,” Longoria said.
The Rays’ resurgent offense helps, too.
Longoria, still limited by a left quad strain that forced him to miss the last 10 games of the regular season, was in an 0-for-12 slide before he and Peña had consecutive doubles starting the fourth against Tommy Hunter. Longoria added a two-run homer in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.
“I kind of felt like Kirk Gibson going around the bases,” said Longoria, obviously still not fully healthy
Said Maddon: “The ball’s in the gap – listen, the walking double, I’ll take it every time. ... And, of course, the home run over the wall is a nice play.”
After hitting only .125 (8-for-64) with one run in the first two games, and going 16 innings without scoring in one stretch, the Rays were five outs from elimination before their bats finally came alive late in Game 3.
And the positive trend carried over into Sunday, when they had 12 hits.