The Rays look to take a 2-0 lead in their AL division series with the Chicago White Sox on Friday at Tropicana Field.
Longoria, an AL rookie of the year favorite, showed the poise of a veteran in his first playoff game, homering in his first two at-bats to lead the Rays to a 6-4 win on Thursday. Longoria, who hit .272 with 31 doubles, 27 homers and 85 RBIs this season, also added an RBI single and a stolen base.
He is the second player to homer in his first two postseason at-bats, joining Gary Gaetti - one of his former minor league hitting coaches who did it with the Minnesota Twins in 1987.
“He’s always got this way about him. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. And that speaks beyond his skill level,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, his skills are very good … and he likes these moments in a non-cocky way. He’s just very confident.”
The Rays had never won more than 70 games in any of their previous 10 years of existence before breaking through to win the AL East. They continued their season-long success at Tropicana Field, where the Rays had the majors best record at 57-24, and hope to continue to take advantage of that on Friday.
“We want to win both of them now. We have such an advantage at home,” Longoria said.
Both of Longoria’s home runs came off Chicago starter Javier Vazquez, who failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He gave up three runs in the bottom of the third inning after Dewayne Wise gave the White Sox a 3-1 lead in the top of the inning with a three-run homer.
Chicago had reached the playoffs after winning three consecutive games against three different opponents, including a one-game playoff against the Twins on Tuesday to capture the AL Central title. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said while Friday’s game doesn’t have the same urgency, he realizes an 0-2 hole would be difficult to overcome.
“We have to win tomorrow,” Guillen said. “I mean, it’s not a do or die thing, but I’d rather go home with one win than go home with our backs to the wall. This organization has been against the wall a lot of times, but we’ve pulled it out before.”
Guillen hopes his team’s veteran players will help even the series. Paul Konerko homered for the fifth time in six games on Thursday, giving him six homers in 16 postseason games, while A.J. Pierzynski - also a member of Chicago’s 2005 World Series champion team - was 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Mark Buehrle (15-12, 3.79 ERA) will try to keep Longoria and the Rays struggling against left-handers as he takes the mound. Longoria hit .242 against lefties this year, barely below the team’s .246 average.
Buehrle was another key component of the 2005 championship squad, going 2-0 with a 3.47 ERA in three starts and a relief appearance in the playoffs, but he struggled on the road this year - going 4-9 with a 5.05 ERA in 17 starts. He went 0-1 in three starts versus the Rays this season, and allowed eight runs and 19 hits in 13 innings spanning two starts - losing on April 19 - at Tropicana Field
“I know the crowd’s going to be into it,” Buehrle told the team’s official Web site. “You just have to try to focus that and get it out of your head.”
Longoria is 0-for-6 against Buehrle, but outfielder Carl Crawford is 10-for-21 (.476) lifetime against the lefty. Crawford was in the lineup Thursday for the first time since injuring his finger Aug. 9.
Tampa Bay was also able to win despite first baseman Carlos Pena leaving the game in the second inning due to blurry vision. Pena, who led the Rays with 31 homers and 102 RBIs and is 11-for-35 (.314) lifetime against Buehrle, said he suffered the injury at home Wednesday but expects to play in this game.
The Rays will try to hold home-field advantage behind Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49), who went 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 14 starts at Tropicana Field while Tampa Bay posted a 12-2 record.
Kazmir went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in his final four starts and pitched beyond the fifth inning only once, but Maddon told the Rays’ official Web site he believes the left-hander will bounce back.
“He’s extremely talented,” Maddon said. “He’s one of the best young pitchers in both leagues. … I really have a lot of confidence in the start (Friday).”
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.34 ERA in five starts against the White Sox, including 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts this season.
Jermaine Dye went 3-for-6 with two home runs against Kazmir this season.
The series moves to Chicago for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4, if necessary, on Sunday.