ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Cool and calm, or so it seemed.
Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays appeared perfectly at home in the playoffs with a Game 1 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The rookie said looks can be deceiving, though.
“I was nervous,” Longoria said. “I think if you’re not nervous in this situation, you’re really not soaking in the moment.”
The All-Star third baseman homered in his first two at-bats and the surprising A.L. East champions were a big hit in their postseason debut, beating the White Sox 6-4 Thursday in their A.L. playoff opener.
“He’s always got this way about him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. And that speaks beyond his skill level. Obviously, his skills are very good … and he likes these moments in a non-cocky way. He’s just very confident.”
After 10 seasons as baseball’s doormat, the Rays took the division with the best home record (57-24) in the majors. A lack of postseason experience was not a factor as they kept winning at Tropicana Field behind James Shields’ effective start and Grant Balfour’s testy, bases-loaded escape.
Tampa Bay ranked near the bottom of the attendance charts this year, but The Trop rocked on this day with a sellout crowd of 35,041.
Game 2 is today, when Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir (12-8) faces Mark Buehrle (15-12).
Chicago took a 3-1 lead on Dewayne Wise’s three-run homer in the third inning. But White Sox starter Javier Vazquez could not hold it.
Longoria became the second player to homer in his first two postseason at-bats, joining one of his former minor league hitting coaches, Gary Gaetti, who did it with Minnesota in 1987.
Longoria homered on his first postseason pitch, a 421-foot leadoff drive in the second. He put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3 with another solo shot in the third, a 430-foot homer.
He also had an RBI single and finished 3 for 3 with three RBIs.
The Rays led 6-3 in the seventh when the game got tense.
Balfour relieved Shields with the bases loaded and one out, 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 him.