ALDS: Ailing Longoria redeems himself to help Rays even series

Had the Tampa Bay Rays already been eliminated in their ALDS against the Texas Rangers, a prime candidate for the goat would've been third baseman Evan Longoria(notes).

Longoria came into the postseason hurting with a strained quadriceps that kept him out for the final week of the regular season. The injury seemed to have stayed with him in the first three games, in which he batted 1-for-12 and ran the bases like a guy who hurt himself jumping out of a helicopter to retrieve his stolen cap.

But Rays manager Joe Maddon insisted before Sunday's Game 4 that Longoria's struggles had more to do with swinging at bad pitches than an aching quad. Maddon was encouraged by the ball Longoria hit to right field toward the end of Game 3, however, and saw that as a sign his clean-up hitter might be coming around.

From the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin:

"I just think they're pitching him pretty good,'' Maddon said. "He's just out of his zone a little bit, he could be just a little more patient.''

Things clicked back in place for Longoria in a big way on Sunday. Or maybe the Rangers' Tommy Hunter(notes) and Derek Holland(notes) were giving him better pitches to hit. Whatever the reason, Longoria got back into his zone in a big way.

The Rays' third baseman batted 3 for 4, with two doubles and a two-run homer in Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory. The resurgent effort helped the Rays force Game 5 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.

Longoria, in making a joke, painted Sunday's scene with more drama.

From the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales:

"I kind of felt like Kirk Gibson going around the bases a little bit," joked Longoria, referring to Gibson's famous home run trot in the 1988 World Series while nursing a hamstring tear. "But there are times when I have to try to push it, like break up a double play or get to second base on those balls I hit in the gap."

Tommy Lasorda just choked on his stromboli.

Regardless, maybe playing outdoors in the sunlight is just what the Rays' hitters needed. Perhaps they just love that Texas heat. Or maybe a team that seemed to let big expectations weigh them down just needed to get away from the home crowd and rally among themselves.

Longoria isn't the only Tampa Bay batter to get his groove back. Carlos Pena (pictured celebrating with Longo) went 4 for 7 in the two games at Texas, hitting for a combined cycle with four RBIs. Carl Crawford(notes), B.J. Upton(notes) and Ben Zobrist(notes) went a combined 8 for 27. Overall, the Rays collected 23 hits in Games 3 and 4, after only managing eight in the first two games of this series.

If Tampa Bay stays on that kind of roll, and David Price(notes) pitches as well as Matt Garza(notes) and Wade Davis(notes) did in Texas, it's difficult to imagine the Rays losing Game 5. But maybe the Rangers put too much pressure on themselves at home, as well. And with Cliff Lee(notes) pitching on Tuesday, they might have the best trump card.