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Must C Clutch: Longoria's jack in the eighth wins it

ST. PETERSBURG -- Stuck in a 4-for-33 slump, Rays manager Joe Maddon asked Evan Longoria to hit leadoff for three games to change things up. Well, it worked.

In Longoria's first game back as Tampa Bay's cleanup hitter, the slugger drilled a ball just over the left-field wall in the eighth inning for a decisive two-run homer, as the Rays rallied to beat the Rangers, 5-4, on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

"I got some results in [the leadoff role]," Longoria said. "And any time you get some results and have some results, you build confidence. This game is really tough mentally. When you start building back that confidence you haven't had, it makes it a little easier."

With the Rays (29-25) down one run heading into the bottom of the eighth, it didn't look good. But a two-out single from Johnny Damon kept the inning alive for Longoria.

The Rays third baseman didn't disappoint, hitting a 3-1 changeup from Rangers left-hander Arthur Rhodes just over a leaping Josh Hamilton in left field. Longoria couldn't hide his excitement as he pumped his fist heading around first base.

"I had to," he said of his celebration while running the bases. "It was just a reaction in that situation. It's been a struggle over the past couple of weeks for me, and to come through in a situation like that -- it was exciting."

"I just threw a changeup and left it up," Rhodes said. "I was trying to get him to pop it up or roll it over."

Longoria is now 7-for-14 since Maddon moved him to the top of the order.

"[Longoria has] got to teach himself a lesson right there," Maddon said. "[He is going to go through a slump] again. You have to be able to draw on experience. It's just another growth moment for him."

Lost in the shuffle was an impressive performance from Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb, who made just his second career Major League start on Tuesday. It looked shaky for Cobb in the first inning with runners on second and third and just one out, but the right-hander rang up Michael Young and induced a ground ball from Adrian Beltre to end the threat.

He calmed down after that, giving up just one run and two hits through the first six innings.

"[Cobb] has good makeup," Maddon said. "As he's here longer, you're going to see him right himself. I think he has the bells and whistles to do that."

However, he couldn't find a way to pitch his way through the seventh. Texas designated hitter Ian Kinsler hit a bloop single to center field to score a run and give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Cobb was pulled after walking the next batter.

The rookie was impressive, however, leaving the game after allowing four hits and three runs in 6 1/3 innings. However, he did walk four Texas hitters.

But Tuesday's start was a vast improvement from Cobb's Major League debut, when he lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up four runs against the Angels on May 1.

"I felt really comfortable out there today," Cobb said. "I almost felt closer to the plate, and when that happens, [it means] I was zoned in a little more."

The rest of the Rays' runs came from homers as well.

Shortstop Sean Rodriguez hit his second of the season to tie the game at 1 in the third inning, and Matt Joyce finished Rangers starting pitcher C.J. Wilson off with a critical two-run roundtripper in the seventh to pull the Rays to a 3-3 draw.

Before Longoria's go-ahead homer, a wild pitch from Rays reliever Joel Peralta in the top of the eighth was the difference in the game, as it allowed a runner to score to put Texas ahead, 4-3.

The run was charged to reliever J.P. Howell, who gave up a pair of singles to start the eighth before exiting the contest.

But in the end, it was Longoria's shot that decided a much-needed game for the Rays. Tampa Bay has now won just four of its past 11 games.

"It's been a process over the past two and a half weeks," Longoria said. "And it was pretty relieving to come through in a situation where the team is looking to you to continue the inning. Maybe not win the game at that point, but do something to help out, and it definitely was a relief." Comments