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Longoria's heroics lead Rays to fourth straight

By Roger Mooney
Published: May 11, 2013 Updated: May 12, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Evan Longoria watches the flight of his game-winning home run Saturday night against San Diego.

It was about to become maybe the worst loss of the season. Among the top three for sure, according to the manager.

Another disappointing night for Jeremy Hellickson.

Another big lead gone.

Another shot at reaching .500 squandered.

Then Evan Longoria put a charge into a slider from Huston Street and boom, two-out, two-run homer. Walk-off win. Bring on Kenny Loggins and his band.

“I'm all right …”

The Rays rallied for an 8-7 victory against the San Diego Padres in front of 18,587 fans at Tropicana Field on the first Saturday concert night of the season.

It was Longoria's team-record fifth walk-off home run of his career — his team-record seventh walk-off hit — and it extended the Rays' winning streak to four, matching their longest of the season.

It also evened their season record at 18-18, the first time they've been at .500 since they were 3-3 on April 7.

“It doesn't get any better than that, than being able to be in that moment and come through,” Longoria said. “So it feels good.”

Longoria got to that moment because Ben Zobrist worked a two-out walk, tipping a pitch in and out of the mitt of Padres catcher Nick Hundley that would have been the final strike of the night before laying off balls three and four.

“Just trying to find a way to battle to get a way on base and get to Longo next, because obviously he's been swinging it well,” Zobrist said. “And in that situation, we've got to like our chances with our best hitter at the plate.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon called Zobrist's at-bat the biggest of the game.

“Zo understands the importance of not making an out. He gets it,” Maddon said. “It's not about getting hits all the time. Some guys are so hung up on getting hits that they cannot see the forest for the walk. You got to just take it sometimes.”

Zobrist's walk was the second-to-last turning point in a game that had a few.

Chase Headley hit a two-run homer off Hellickson in the first inning to give the Padres the quick lead.

Padres starter Burch Smith, making his major-league debut, retired the Rays in order in the first inning, then didn't retire any of the seven batters he faced in the second.

Longoria started the inning with a walk and James Loney nearly reached the wall behind the right-field stands with his second home run of the season.

Yunel Escobar's bases-loaded single made it 4-2 Rays, and the lead was extended to 6-2 on an RBI double by Matt Joyce and a sacrifice fly by Kelly Johnson.

Hellickson began a streak of 16 straight outs with the final out of the first inning.

Carlos Quentin ended that run with a leadoff walk to start the seventh. The Padres then loaded the bases on a pair of singles.

Jesus Guzman was sent up to pinch hit with two out. He worked the count full, then drove a change-up from Hellickson into the left-field stands for the first grand slam of his career.

That made it 6-6.

“Guzman, (Hellickson) should have been able to do something right there,” Maddon said. “I felt very strongly about that. Not lukewarm, not mediocre, not tepid, but very strongly about it.”

The Padres added the go-ahead run that inning when Jamey Wright walked a batter with the bases loaded. But Cesar Ramos retired all seven batters he faced to set up Longoria's big moment.

“I'm very happy we won the game,” Hellickson said. “At the same time, I'm very disappointed with myself. It's been three, four games in a row now I've done the same thing. I'm happy the guys came back and picked me up.”

Maddon would have preferred a less-dramatic win.

“To be able to come back is outstanding. It's wonderful,” Maddon said. “It's part of the game, but I'd rather be good than lucky. That's not going to happen very often. That is the anomaly what happened right there.

“We're fortunate Longo was in the right spot. We're fortunate that Zo gets it as a hitter. ... You get leads, you got to put the other team away. That is inappropriate. That's got to stop.”