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10/02/08 7:30 PM EST
Gaetti, Longoria linked by long ball
Rays rookie joins former coach, Twins third baseman in lore
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the hitting coach for the Rays' Triple-A Durham affiliate, Gary Gaetti spent parts of the last two seasons working with third baseman Evan Longoria.
Now, the two will now be forever linked in another way. That's after Longoria became only the second player in Major League history to hit home runs in his first two postseason plate appearances on Thursday afternoon. The first was Gaetti, who accomplished the feat in Game 1 of the 1987 American League Championship Series when he was the Twins' third baseman.
Gaetti was watching the game on television when Longoria, a rookie, hit the two home runs for Tampa Bay in a 6-4 victory over the White Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
"I just thought it was kind of ironic because I got to coach Evan earlier this year and a little bit last year," Gaetti said when reached on his cell phone near his home in Louisiana. "I didn't know at the time that it had never been done again [after me]. I figured the way that things go nowadays that definitely somebody would do it.
"It's kind of special that it's somebody that I know and somebody I have coached who has done the same thing. I wish he would have gone deep for a third time. But I'm really proud of him and happy for the Rays."
Gaetti said that watching Longoria's big moment immediately brought back memories of his special day on Oct. 7, 1987.
Facing Tigers right-hander Doyle Alexander in Game 1 of that '87 ALCS at the Metrodome, Gaetti hit a one-out solo homer to deep center field in the second inning to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. With the ballgame tied at 1 heading into the bottom of the fifth, Gaetti then led off with his second home run of the day off Alexander, this one to right-center field, to give the Twins back the lead.
"It was an unreal feeling," Gaetti said. "We were facing a guy that we hadn't done real well against so it kind of set the tone for the game. Certainly after the first one, you don't think it's going to happen again. It was almost like a déjà vu thing."
Gaetti, who spent 20 years in the big leagues playing for six different clubs, went on to be named the ALCS MVP that season. In his seventh year with the Twins at the time, Gaetti batted .300 with those two home runs and five RBIs that postseason as he helped Minnesota to capture its first World Series championship.
Longoria is just a rookie, but as a former third baseman himself, Gaetti said that he was immediately struck by what he saw in Longoria during the short time he got to work with him in Durham.
"He's actually the best all-around young player that I've coached in the Minor Leagues," Gaetti said. "His defense is what really impressed me -- how he moved and how he handled situations. His ability to make adjustments and his mentality in the game was well beyond his age. He's just a special guy, he really is."
Gaetti said that it was great to watch Longoria match his feat, but he hopes that the storyline continues to unfold for the Rays in the same way that it did for the Twins in 1987. That year, the Twins accomplished the unthinkable, going from one of the worst records in the league the previous season to winning the club's first World Series. The Rays are attempting to do the same thing this year.
"The similarities are uncanny to me, just in regards to seeing how they are doing in this thing," Gaetti said. "They kind of had that theme all year of 'Why not us?' Once you get to a certain point in the season and have success, that's how it is -- why not us? They are hot right now and they are really believing it, really smelling it. So, why not the Rays?"