ST. PETERSBURG — He celebrated his 28th birthday Monday night.
You celebrated with him, didn’t you?
And so this ALDS with the Red Sox will turn four games old tonight.
Evan Longoria came through when the Tampa Bay Rays needed him, with a three-run homer just when his club seemed doorknob dead, ready to be swept out of this 2013 season by Boston.
This series was done.
And then it wasn’t.
“It’s a pretty good birthday,” Longoria said. “Coming through with that home run makes it all the more special.”
A Longo moon ball, hanging in the air at the Trop, forever it seemed, before landing just over the fence in left.
And it was tied, 3-3.
“... And all of a sudden, it’s a different world,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
And later it was won, despite Fernando’s blown save in the ninth, when ice cream lover Jose Lobaton, of all people, inserted into this game in the ninth, hit a two-out walk-off home run in the bottom of that inning off seemingly unhittable Boston reliever Koji Uehara.
5-4. Mob scene. Season lives.
For the fourth time in eight days, the Rays refused to be eliminated, refused to go away.
Lobaton, unlikely hero, doused with water by Longo, a man seemingly born for such momemts.
Ice cream for everyone!
You go back to the third baseman.
Birthday Boy jump started his club back into this series.
The Rays, already down two games after two lifeless losses, were behind 3-0 in the fifth inning of Game 3. Nothing was going right. More mistakes, more Boston runs. Alex Cobb hadn’t been enough. Even the catwalks had tried to help in the fourth, turning a Ben Zobrist foul out into a dead ball and eventually a walk, only the Rays left the bases loaded.
That left it to Longo.
Runners on second and third, two outs in the fifth. His team was down three runs and up against Clay Buchholz, who hadn’t allowed so much as a single run to the Rays in 17 plus innings in 2013. Longoria was just 7-for-36 against Buchholz, no home runs, as he stepped in. He’d been called out on strikes an in the fourth.
He wasn’t thinking home run.
“Every time I try to think that it never works out,” Longoria said. “So I was really just trying to hit something up the middle.”
An 0-1 pitch ...
It wasn’t 162, but it more than fit the bill on this night.
Because this is the Rays’ answer to David Ortiz.
Because this is Longo, who has come through since arriving as a rookie in 2008.
He went and played 160 games during this season, coming off surgery, because he wants to lead.
All of a sudden, for the first time, we had ourselves a series.
“When Evan hit the home run, the energy came back,” Lobaton said. “We were thinking now we’ve got a chance.”
You could almost hear jubilant Rays fans as they left the Trop, celebrating wildly, quieting down only later after it hit them that Jeremy Hellickson is starting Game 4.
You could definitely make out the second-guessers going full throttle in Red Sox Nation over manager John Farrell’s decision to pitch to Longoria with first base open and with the on-deck circle occupied by Rays rookie Wil Myers, 0-for-11 at the plate in the ALDS, among other things.
It was Longoria’s ninth postseason homer, a Rays record. It was his 29th postseason game. He has played in every one his team has played.
And he was there Monday.
Lobo won it.
Longo began it.
“Longo has been the boulder pusher around here,” Maddon said.
Coming into Monday’s game, Longoria was only 9-for-49 (.184) in the 13 postseason games at the Trop. Well, give him another hit.
A big one.