Evan Longoria creates new playoff memories with decisive home run vs. Dodgers

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Los Angeles, CA - October 11: San Francisco Giants' Evan Longoria follows through on a swing.
San Francisco's Evan Longoria follows through on a solo home run in the fifth inning of the Giants' 1-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS on Monday at Dodger Stadium. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Evan Longoria, the 36-year-old veteran of 14 big-league seasons and 30 playoff games, was asked on the eve of the National League Division Series if he had any advice for an October neophyte such as Mike Yastrzemski. The San Francisco Giants third baseman wasn’t sure he was qualified to answer the question.

“It’s been like eight years since I’ve been to the postseason, so it feels like another lifetime ago,” said Longoria, the former Bellflower St. John Bosco High and Cal State Long Beach standout. “I mean, I can’t even tell you my last playoff memory.”

He can now. Longoria wiped the sour taste of eight hitless at-bats out of his mouth with a solo home run to left-center field in the fifth inning on Monday night, the only run the Giants would need in a 1-0 Game 3 victory over the Dodgers before a sellout crowd of 53,299 in Chavez Ravine.

Longoria, leading off the fifth against Dodgers right-hander Max Scherzer, fell behind 0-and-2 in the count before fouling off a slider and changeup.

Scherzer tried to elevate a 96-mph fastball but left the pitch just above Longoria’s belt and over the middle. Longoria sent a towering 110-mph drive through a stiff wind blowing in from left field that carried 407 feet into the left-field pavilion for a 1-0 lead.

“I knew I got every bit of it as far as how hard I could hit a baseball, but I wasn’t quite sure it was gonna go out,” Longoria said of the wind, which blew from 15-20 mph with gusts up to 40-45 mph. “The conditions tonight were crazy. I don’t think I’ve stepped out of the box as many times in my career mid-at-bat as I did tonight.

“A couple times I felt like I was gonna get blown over by the wind. There was a lot of dust in the eyes, so it was definitely a little bit more difficult environment to hit in and play in tonight. I was thinking if that ball didn’t go out tonight, I might have just cashed it in.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was a little more convinced Longoria’s ball was going to leave the yard.

“He got every bit of that ball,” Roberts said. “I know it was 0-2, the ball was up in the zone, he put a great swing on it. … I don’t know what the exit velocity was, but it was a no-doubter.”

The mistake pitch left Scherzer — who rebounded from a shaky first to throw seven strong innings, giving up three hits, striking out 10 and walking one — with plenty of doubts.

“I was trying to go fastball up and didn’t get it above the zone,” Scherzer said. “It is what it is. We’ve got to figure out why I didn’t execute that pitch.”

The homer was Longoria’s first in the playoffs since Oct. 7, 2013, when he hit a three-run shot for Tampa Bay off Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz in Game 3 of an American League Division Series that the Rays would lose in four games.

Starter Alex Wood, relievers Tyler Rogers, Jake McGee and Camilo Doval, the rookie right-hander who looked dominant while retiring the side in order in the eighth and ninth innings, made the lead hold up, giving the Giants a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-five series.

“I’m happy for him as a friend,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler, a Rays teammate of Longoria in 2009 and 2010. “I also know that he puts a lot of weight on his own shoulders trying to come up big for his teammates, so I’m happy he was able to do that. That swing led to a big win for us.”

Longoria, in the fifth year of a six-year, $100-million deal he signed before the 2017 season, was in the middle of his most productive season with the Giants when he suffered a left-shoulder sprain in an on-field collision with shortstop Brandon Crawford on June 5.

Longoria was batting .280 with an .892 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, nine homers and 30 RBIs in 50 games when he went on the injured list.

He returned on Aug. 14 but hit only .228 with a .729 OPS, four homers and 16 RBIs in his last 31 games, finishing the season with a .261 average, .833 OPS, 13 HRs and 46 RBIs in 81 games.

Longoria was hitless in his first eight at-bats of the division series, including a second-inning strikeout on a Scherzer 95-mph fastball on Monday night, but he didn’t miss Scherzer’s fastball in the fifth.

“I think his swings have been more on time recently, and he has run into a stretch where some calls haven’t gone his way, and as a result he’s fallen into some disadvantaged counts,” Kapler said. “It’s hard to climb out of those against the caliber of pitchers we’ve been facing.

“But you did kind of see the bat speed and the explosiveness and the good decision making, and eventually a caliber of player like Longo is going to run into a good pitch to hit and put a really good swing on it, and that was the biggest one of the night.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.