10/02/08 10:22 PM EST
Add another big game to Longoria's list
AL Rookie of the Year favorite builds on reputation in Game 1
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
People recognize Longoria on the street -- and that's exactly what he wants, because that comes with the territory when you've become one of baseball's elite players. On Thursday afternoon, Longoria probably earned a few more fans when he slammed two home runs in a 6-4 win over the White Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
"I've got a chance to be something that you don't see every day or every year," Longoria said.
Playing on the national stage posed no problem for Longoria, even in light of the fact that this is Tampa Bay's first October experience. The Rays endured 10 losing seasons before this Cinderella season, but Longoria might as well not know that. As long as he's been around, the Rays have been a force within the AL East.
At just 22 years old, Longoria is a big reason Tampa Bay has climbed to the heights it has this season. Ask the players around the Rays' clubhouse, and they'll tell you Longoria has more to give. That's a scary thought when, in the first postseason game of his career, he went 3-for-3 with two monstrous blasts to left field.
"He enjoys the moment -- he looks forward to it," said Tampa Bay's Cliff Floyd. "This is just the beginning. This is nothing for him. I think you are going to see a ton, and rightfully so. He's a good kid, works hard, allows himself to do well, puts himself in good situations. He knows how to work and he works hard at it."
That is why Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't surprised by Longoria's performance in the series opener against Chicago.
Longoria has shown all season long that he can deliver in key moments. Walk-off hits? Longoria had three. Game-winning home runs? Try two. Longoria enjoyed a three-homer game, he was a part of three consecutive Tampa Bay long balls, he collected six RBIs in a game and cleared the fence in three straight games at one point.
The youngster was an AL All-Star, too.
|"This is just the beginning. ... I think you are going to see a ton."|
|-- Cliff Floyd, on Evan Longoria|
"He likes these moments -- in a non-cocky way. He's just very confident. So with that, I really did expect him to have a very good postseason."
Why wouldn't the Rays expect just that?
Longoria is the favorite to take home the AL Rookie of the Year honor, and that's after beginning the season in Triple-A and also missing 30 games with a fractured right wrist. Longoria led all rookies with 27 home runs and a .531 slugging percentage -- two of the highest marks for a rookie third baseman.
Just six days after being promoted to Tampa Bay in mid April, the Rays handed him a six-year contract, with club options that could potentially make the deal worth $44 million over nine years. It was an unprecedented signing for someone with such a lack of experience, but Longoria has been earning every penny.
"He's going to be probably in the Hall of Fame someday," marvelled White Sox outfielder Dewayne Wise.
For now, Longoria can settle for the record books.
On Thursday, Longoria became only the second player -- and first rookie -- to homer in each of his first two career postseason at-bats. In the process, he became only the 30th player to clear the fence the first time in a batter's box in the playoffs. Longoria played an integral part in the Rays' win over the White Sox, adding a run-scoring single, a walk and a stolen base.
"Longoria, that's a guy you want to stay away from," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "This guy's a tough kid. This kid's going to be an outstanding ballplayer. You see him on the field, and you know he's going to be a great player."
|"I've got a chance to be something that you don't see every day or every year."|
|-- Evan Longoria|
"Right on the sweet spot," Longoria said, grinning.
So, if there are a few more pro-Longoria signs in the Tropicana Field stands during Game 2 on Friday night, Longoria won't mind. And, if fans stop him on the street, he won't care. Longoria is accepting of all the attention he's received in this impressive campaign of his.
"This is what you want," Longoria said. "It does cut away from a little bit of your private time -- it's tough to go out sometimes and get a bite to eat -- but that's cool. That's what you want.
"If you want to be famous and be one of the best players in the game, that's what comes with it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.