NEW YORK -- "What's he doing here?" a befuddled Yankees fan asked on the sidewalk in front of the MLB Fan Cave.
Evan Longoria expected a little bit of that Friday as he and Rays teammates Matt Moore and Rich Thompson visited Major League Baseball's 15,000-square-foot playland in Greenwich Village to have fun and hand out pizza slices to fans before opening their intense weekend series at Yankee Stadium.
They called it "Famous Rays Pizza," because Famous Ray's Pizza is an institution in the Big Apple, and it was publicized ahead of time, so it was a news event. The trio donned aprons over their jerseys. Moore tended to the big line of fans cued up along Broadway. Longoria called balls and strikes as fans threw balls at a hole in the wall to score pizza. Thompson dished out the regular slices.
"I'm sure there's going to be plenty of crazy New Yorkers out there telling us how much they love the Yankees," Longoria said before walking out to meet the crowd.
There were a welcome number of Rays fans who were thrilled to see their players on the day of the latest David Price-CC Sabathia showdown, but naturally there were also Yankees fans who weren't going to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Is that what Longoria expected?
"Of course," he said after it was over. "It's New York, and I'm wearing a Rays jersey and a Rays hat."
Anthony Russo is a Yankees fan from Italy, and standing 10 feet behind Longoria, he marveled at how this kind of scene can exist on the day of such a big opener.
"This is the United States, man," Russo said. "Everybody's allowed to go anywhere. Everybody's equal."
Such is life at the Fan Cave, where Longoria brought his girlfriend, Jamie Edmonson, and all parties became the latest in a long line of players or celebs to tour the joint, sign the wall, make videos and even do Fernando Rodney's bow-and-arrow pose in the group photo.
In fact, little-known to most, Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher was downstairs the whole time the three Rays were there, as he filmed an upcoming commercial. And Red Sox pitching prospect Matt Barnes was a surprise guest, glad to meet the three Rays. Thompson went down the giant orange tube slide.
"There's not a better place to watch a baseball game," Longoria said.
At this very place one year ago, MLB officials and the Cave dwellers of 2011 watched that fabled last day of the regular season on the 15-screen Cave Monster. They saw Longoria deliver his memorable walk-off home run to beat the Yankees in the comeback thriller, which, coupled with Baltimore's victory over Boston, put Tampa Bay into the American League Division Series.
Now the Rays enter the Yankees series four games out in the AL East and AL Wild Card standings, after being swept in Baltimore. They might be in "must-win" territory at this point, and they are braced for pandemonium in the days ahead.
"It's going to be eventful, like it always is," Longoria said. "But this is what we always play for -- to play in September, in a pennant race."
Longoria grew up 15 minutes from Angel Stadium, and when asked who he rooted for during late seasons of his youth, he said, "I was always an Angels guy. They were my favorite. I went to Dodger games, but the Angels were always the team I rooted for."
"Go, Dirtbags," joked Cave Dweller Ricardo Marquez, the Cave's resident Angels fan from Anaheim.
"Dirtbags," Longoria nodded back, acknowledging the nickname given to the Long Beach State baseball team.
Longoria said he was looking forward to his two companions having to dress up with other Rays rookies on their next trip following this one. Of course, road-trip dress-ups are routine for this team. What was Longoria's favorite so far?
"The Miami one is probably always my favorite," Longoria said. "Just wearing all white whenever we go down to Miami. It's simple and it gets the point across. Probably the next theme trip we do will be when we dress up the rookies for this next trip. I've never been involved with it. There are plenty of guys on the team who are excited about that."
After Price and James Shields take the mound, Moore will start the series finale opposite Hideki Kuroda at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday. Moore (10-10) comes off a rough outing at Baltimore, but prior to that start, he had been 9-4 with a 3.07 ERA since June 1. The rookie lefty is 2-1 all-time against the Yankees.
"I'm expecting a lot of fun, mostly because I've never played baseball where there is this much on every night," Moore said of the postseason push. "It's no longer a case where you're watching what the big boys are doing. You're in it, you're in the Bronx playing the Yankees.
"Expectation-wise, I think the atmosphere is only going to get better for us. There are some new faces, it really adds to the energy just adding a few extra guys."
One of those new faces, Thompson, finally got his long-awaited callup after eight years in the Minors, going back to a 2004 cup of coffee with Kansas City. He said of this stretch: "It's meaningful baseball in September, it's not insurmountable and we've got the guys to do it."
It started with meeting some fans on the road.
"Nobody's gonna come out here who doesn't want to meet some guys and get pizza," Thompson said.
"I had a great time," Moore said. "We had a few Yankee supporters out there letting us know they were here, but we had a good turnout of Rays fans. It's a good thing for baseball."