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Martin Fennelly Columns

Rays' Longoria eager for more moments, memories

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:09 AM

His major league career is four seasons old and it was filled with memorable moments before Sept. 28, 2011. They screamed that here was a star, a leader, an embracer of clutch. And then he stepped in a won a wild card with one final swing of his bat.

The Legend of Longo rolls on.

"It took me a long time to even comprehend the 2008 season and what we did that year," Evan Longoria said. "So last year, 162, I still haven't remembered all of it. ... You could see in my postgame interviews; there was part of me that didn't think it was real. ... Even now, that night is hard to fathom."

The memory we have is the Rays star third baseman's refusal to give in. He battled assorted injuries from the start. A nerve problem in a foot required surgery when it was over.

Despite playing only 133 games, and with roughly 100 fewer at-bats than in his previous two seasons, Longoria hit 31 homers and drove in 99 runs, with more RBIs than anyone in baseball after June 11. And he closed the deal in 162.

"I think I was most proud of myself for not packing it in," Longoria said. "There was a lot of stuff to deal with last year. Anyway, I was proud that I kept going. On a team level, it's very similar. We could have packed it in after the bad start, or at the end of August when no one gave us a chance to do what we did."

But there's another deal to close. Longoria has hit .143 over his last three postseason series, including .188 against the Rangers in last year's Division Series. There's always another moment, isn't there? Longoria lost 10 to 15 pounds through offseason workouts. At 26, he is primed and ready.

"I would just like to have a year when I'm healthy and consistent," Longoria said. "I'd love for my numbers to stay the way they've been. The biggest thing is health."

He knows how he wants it to end. Longoria has talked to most everyone about it, his teammates, Rays manager Joe Maddon, even Rays owner Stuart Sternberg.

"And my message has been clear," Longoria said. "I've signed a contract. I have a long-term deal. I have Gold Gloves. I've been to a World Series. I've been very fortunate personally … but the thing that's out there is winning a World Series. I'd like to not stop until we get one, and if we do this year, then not stop until we've got five more."

"He doesn't run away from the moment," Maddon said. "He's supposed to carry us, he wants to carry us. He likes the bright lights. Jim Edmonds liked the bright lights. James had a switch, man. When he turned that sucker on, no matter who we were playing or where, heads up. (Evan) doesn't play with as much of a switch. He's always in the 'On' position. I don't see that guy in any other position but to be on top of his game, every day."

Longoria was talking about his two home runs in 162. The first pulled the Rays to within a run in the eighth. The winner, three innings after Dan Johnson tied it in the ninth, brought the Rays home.

"It's hard, definitely, but what makes those situations easier to deal with is when you don't try to put so much importance on them. I try and dumb things down. The more you think, the more you're talking yourself out of the moment and having success. It's really hard sometimes, when your heart is beating so fast, your eyes are going all over.

"The first one, no, I was just thinking about getting back into the game. The second homer, the heart, it was going pretty good. But it would have been different it we had been down a run. There was a certain part of me that thought if I didn't get it done, someone would. It wasn't like Dan Johnson, ninth inning, you're the last hope. But you still want to be the one to come through, if that makes any sense."

That was 162, now and forever.

"We still have youth on our side," Evan Longoria said. "I think that, in combination with our experience, makes us tough. We've experienced winning, playing in a high-pressure situation like that last day of the season. All of those things should make us a team that won't collapse under pressure, that understands how to handle itself in any situation."

More moments, anyone?

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