Longoria's first grand slam downs Jays
Rays rookie breaks open game with sixth-inning shot
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the wake of the Rays' recent offensive woes, manager Joe Maddon has preached patience, saying that "soft" hits will lead to better offensive production.
The skipper's words struck gold on Saturday night, as a mix of choppers, bloopers and bunt singles put Toronto ace Roy Halladay on the ropes. Evan Longoria delivered the knockout punch -- belting his first career grand slam -- to give the Rays a 6-4 victory over the Blue Jays in front of a crowd of 32,669 at Tropicana Field.
Longoria battled, hitting two foul balls into his left ankle before taking Halladay's 10th pitch over the left-field fence.
"An unbelievable at-bat," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "Amazing. To keep his focus [after hitting himself] ... I know it hurts. That's just the kind of hitter he is."
Halladay had kept the Rays' bats in fits for most of the game's first half before Ben Zobrist delivered a spark from the No. 9 hole, chopping a single to left to open the sixth inning.
A textbook bunt from Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford's slow chopper that slowly rolled down the first-base line loaded the bases for Pena, whose bloop single scored the game's first run.
"They weren't hit too hard, but they were done effectively," Pena said. "And to be able to come away with the win was great."
Halladay entered Saturday's contest with a Major League-leading seven complete games and hadn't lost a road start since May 9 at Cleveland.
The five earned runs Halladay allowed matched a season high and resulted in his shortest stint since June 14.
"Listen, we will take them any way we can," Maddon said of his team's hits. "When you are facing that pitcher, he is going to make you pound the ball into the ground and into that front ankle. You saw it with Longo several times."
Given Longoria's local golden-boy status, Saturday's grand slam may seem like just another accolade to add to the piling list.
But the magnitude of going yard on Halladay resonated for the rookie, who dubbed it one of his "proudest" at-bats.
"I don't like to give pitchers too much credit, but he's won a Cy Young [Award] before," Longoria said with a mix of awe and appreciation. "He deserves his credit, and to have my first grand slam off him is a good feeling."
That view was mirrored by Rays starter Matt Garza, who held the Blue Jays to two hits over 7 2/3 innings.
"I was just trying to match him out-for-out," Garza said of the duel with Halladay. "That guy's having a Cy Young season. ... I just tip my cap to the offense tonight. Those guys came up clutch when they had to."
And they came through even when it appeared they didn't have to.
Cliff Floyd's solo shot off reliever Brandon League to open the eighth inning seemed like gravy for the Rays, who at the time had scored six unanswered runs. But Floyd's homer became critical when Toronto rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
"That's a big offensive situation for us," Maddon said. "You want to keep trying to tack on those runs. You want to take the momentum away from the other team, and you want to do it in any way you can."
League plunked Dioner Navarro with a pitch later in the eighth and was immediately ejected, as home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro concluded that League was retaliating for Navarro's sixth-inning bunt.
Maddon said that the words exchanged on the field made League's intent clear, and the skipper was visibly upset about Toronto's response to his team's style of play.
"I really disagree with what they did," he said. "We will stop trying to score runs when they stop trying. Maybe in 1922, you can't [bunt with a five-run lead], because nobody's going to hit a home run. But in the year 2008, people are going to hit home runs. And you can see how they came back."
Following his ejection, League cried foul about his punishment.
"That kind of caught me off guard," he said. "I was just trying to go inside -- throw a sinker down and in -- and it just got away from me. I don't know what the umpire was thinking."
When the dust finally settled on Saturday night, all that mattered to the Rays was the end result -- their 38th home win, matching their home win total from last season.
"I think that just goes back to what we were doing the first half -- just winning games any way we can," Longoria said. "We were fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on the breaks."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.