Longoria lifts Rays to victory

Orlando Sentinel

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It took 11 seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays to reach the playoffs, and when they made their postseason debut Thursday, they didn’t disappoint a sellout crowd at Tropicana Field.

Third baseman Evan Longoria hit a pair of home runs, and reliever Grant Balfour pitched Tampa Bay out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning as the Rays beat the Chicago White Sox, 6-4, in the teams’ American League division series opener.

Each of Longoria’s home runs gave the Rays a lead -- 1-0 after his solo shot to left-center in the second, and 4-3 after his solo blast in the third.

Longoria became only the second player in major league history to hit home runs in his first two postseason at-bats, joining the Minnesota Twins’ Gary Gaetti, who accomplished the feat on Oct. 7, 1987.


“I was nervous,” he said. “I think if you’re not nervous in this situation, you’re really not soaking in the moment.”

Many in the announced crowd of 35,041 were yelling “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as Longoria stepped into the batter’s box with runners on first and second in the fifth. He responded by delivering a single to left that scored B.J. Upton and upped the Rays’ lead to 5-3.

“This guy is a star. He’s going to be an outstanding ballplayer,” White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said. “You see his face on the field, and you just know he’s going to be a great, great player.”

Tampa Bay held a 6-3 lead in the top of the seventh, and then things got dicey when Rays starter James Shields loaded the bases with one out.

Balfour relieved Shields and struck out Juan Uribe. Orlando Cabrera was up next and after ball one, he kicked dirt toward the mound and appeared to shout something at Balfour. The reliever walked toward the plate before being stopped by umpire Joe West.

Balfour fanned Cabrera to end the threat, pumped his fist and pointed at the White Sox shortstop. The exchange also brought Rays Manager Joe Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez out of the dugout and more words were exchanged.

Cabrera said he was responding to something Balfour said.

“They say that he always gets pumped up like that,” Cabrera said. “I didn’t know that, so I just got mad a little bit and I was just pumped up. . . . It was just heat of the moment.”

Carlos Pena, the Rays’ first baseman and No. 3 hitter, left the game after the second inning because he was experiencing blurred vision from his left eye. Rays officials said he accidentally scratched his eye at his home, but they added he should be available to play in today’s game.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.