Joe Maddon likes what he sees when he looks at the standings. The Rays were already on their way to moving into a virtual tie the New York Yankees atop the American League East, even before Evan Longoria became a factor at the plate.
"There's going to be some good numbers attached to his name in the very near future, and that's a good thought," Maddon said before Saturday's game.
Right on cue, Longoria drove in the first four runs during the Rays' 8-2 victory against the Orioles at Camden Yards. He hit a first-inning double and a three-run homer in the third inning.
Those were Longoria's first RBIs and first homer of the year.
"It's tough to come off the (disabled list) and come in and have an immediate impact, especially when you haven't seen that much live pitching," B.J. Upton said. "But he's a great athlete, a great baseball player, and he's actually showing that right now."
Upton learned Saturday morning that he received a two-game suspension and a $1,500 fine for his outburst in Wednesday's game. He plans to appeal the penalty until the Rays begin a three-game series Tuesday in Cleveland. His reasoning is he likes hitting in Baltimore.
Upton wasn't kidding. His day included a three-run homer to right field in the fifth inning and doubles in his next two at-bats.
Upton and Longoria were part of a hit show that produced 15 hits and helped the Rays overcome some lackluster pitching that included a season-high 10 walks — the most in a Tampa Bay victory since 2006 when Devil Rays pitchers walked 14 in a 10-inning win at Yankee Stadium.
Saturday's victory was the Rays' seventh straight on the road, equaling the franchise record set in 2004. Ironically, the Rays used to be so good at home but are 9-10 at Tropicana Field this season, while Saturday's win improved them to 10-4 on the road, including nine wins in their past 10 road games.
"We'd love to play better at home, but we'll take the wins when we can get them," Longoria said. "I think we enjoy playing on the road as a club, get out and be with just the guys and go out and play baseball."
Saturday was Longoria's fifth game since returning from the disabled list after missing 27 games with a strained left oblique. Like Upton said, it's hard for anyone, even Longoria, to quickly make up for the lost time.
Longoria said he feels as if he's more than moving in the right direction.
"(Saturday) I felt good, back to 100 percent and really comfortable in the box," he said. "But you've got to try and carry that momentum into the next day."
It didn't go unnoticed to Maddon that Longoria's hits came off right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. While Guthrie is struggling this season (Saturday was his fifth straight loss), he has enjoyed mostly success against Longoria, holding the three-time All-Star to only four hits in 23 career at-bats entering the game.
Longoria doubled home Johnny Damon for the game's first run. His loudest hit came in the third inning when, batting with runners on second and third, he drilled a 1-1 fastball into the left-field seats.
With two outs and first base open, Longoria thought Guthrie might walk him.
"Those thoughts were going through my mind," Longoria said. "But Jeremy being the kind of guy he is, he's aggressive. He pitches to contact for the most part. I don't want to go into that at-bat thinking he might walk me. I've done that in the past and rolled over a ball that I could have hit a long way. I try to stay in the at-bat. I'm sure he didn't want that pitch where it was."
Guthrie went right after Longoria, firing fastballs from the start. In fact, the first strike came when Longoria swung through a very hittable heater.
Longoria didn't miss the second one.
"It was just a matter of time," Maddon said after the game. "It was just a matter of time before he got a couple of big knocks."