Longoria's HR helps Rays gain Wild Card ground

Longoria's HR helps Rays gain Wild Card ground

Longoria's HR helps Rays gain Wild Card ground
CHICAGO -- Evan Longoria celebrated early, but he celebrated the one-year anniversary of Game No. 162 in grand style Thursday night.

A day before the anniversary of the most famous game in team history, Longoria clubbed a game-winning home run in the ninth inning to break a tie to lead Tampa Bay (86-70) to a 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox (82-74) at U.S. Cellular Field with 18,630 watching.

The win extended the Rays' winning streak to eight games while extending the White Sox losing streak to three.

By winning, the Rays moved to within two games of the second American League Wild Card spot.

With one out, the Rays slugger hit a 2-1 pitch from Brett Myers 390 feet into the left-field stands for his 14th home run.

"I was a little frustrated after he threw a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch," Longoria said. "But I just told myself to stay in the at-bat, don't give anything up."

Myers threw a changeup and another fastball to run the count to 2-1.

"So I hadn't even seen the slider yet," Longoria said. "The pitch was a slider, but it got enough of the plate and stayed up enough. I was late [against White Sox starter Jake] Peavy all day. He had my number with the fastball, so maybe in that situation the slider was the best pitch for me. If he throws a fastball, I don't know what happens. But again, my bat speed was perfect for the slider today."

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Longoria's 12th-inning blast against the Yankees that propelled the Rays into the playoffs. While Thursday night's dramatics did not put the Rays into the playoffs, the blast did help perpetuate the belief that the Rays can again reach the postseason.

"The belief has never gone away in here," Longoria said. "We've felt like we had a good chance to be a playoff team from the beginning of the year. And that's the strength of this team. We're kind of just dumb enough. You can't really count us out. We've been in these situations before, and like I've said, we believe. And as long as the guys in here believe, that's all that matters."

What makes that feeling stronger is the fact the Rays won a game Thursday night that they normally lose. Particularly the way the bottom of the eighth began to unfold with the score tied at 2.

A.J. Pierzynski singled off Joel Peralta to lead off the inning and Jordan Danks was inserted as a pinch-runner. One out later, Alexei Ramirez flew out to B.J. Upton in center field and ultimately that turned into an 8-6-1-4 inning-ending double-play.

"Twenty of us [on the bench] noticed it at the same time," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "[Danks] went [to second base], hit the bag, kind of stepped over it and popped right on the other side. That's what we saw. It's always funny, infielders don't understand what we were trying to get across to them. 'Step on the bag, step on the bag.' [Second-base umpire] Alfonso Marquez was all over it."

Maddon said it was the kind of game that had put the Rays "behind the eight ball a little bit" all year.

"The offense kind of disappears and the pitching stays in there, but eventually something would happen negative in the game," Maddon said. "We turned it around tonight."

Conversely, the White Sox did not.

"We didn't do the little things," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Tonight we had an opportunity to get a guy in scoring position and didn't do it. It's not just those guys; over the course of the last week or so, we're not doing small things to win games. We have bases loaded, we only get one. Over the course of time that just builds up and it's difficult on your pitching staff to do that over and over again."

The Rays appeared to take an early lead Thursday night when Peavy was called for a balk that allowed Jeff Keppinger to score from third. But the umpires huddled and waved off the balk.

First-base umpire Chad Fairchild called the balk, but Peavy had faked to third prior to pumping toward first and not throwing. Fairchild had not seen Peavy fake to third. Once the fake was called to Fairchild's attention, the balk was retracted and Keppinger returned to third base. Matt Joyce then struck out with runners at the corners to end the inning.

Carlos Pena broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly in the fourth that scored Ben Zobrist to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.

The White Sox answered in the bottom half of the inning with a little help from James Shields, who walked Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko to start the inning. Alex Rios followed with a single to load the bases with no outs.

Shields never lost his cool and managed to limit the damage. He struck out Pierzynski for the first out before drilling Dayan Viciedo to force in a run. Ramirez then popped out to shortstop and Gordon Beckham lined out to left to end the inning.

Luke Scott homered off Peavy to open the Rays' fifth, giving the slugger 14 for the season while putting the Rays up, 2-1.

Unfortunately for the Rays, Shields continued to struggle with his control. Alejandro De Aza singled to open the White Sox fifth then Shields hit the next batter, Kevin Youkilis and he walked Dunn to load the bases for Konerko.

Konerko promptly hit into a 6-4-3 double-play, but a run scored to tie the game at 2.

Shields, who pitched 6 1/3 innings, and Peavy, who went 7 1/3, each received a no-decision.

"My command wasn't too good today," Shields said. "My two-seam was running a little more than I wanted it to run today. But I battled out there. I basically had no outs a couple of times and ended up minimizing my damage, keeping us right there in the game. Our bullpen did a phenomenal job of coming in and Longo's home run was amazing."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.