ARLINGTON, Texas - Evan Longoria is still limping. Now he's also hitting, and the Tampa Bay Rays are headed home, one victory from an improbable comeback.
Longoria snapped out of his postseason slump with a homer and two doubles, Carlos Pena scored twice with a pair of extra-base hits of his own and Tampa Bay escaped elimination again with a 5-2 victory Sunday over the Texas Rangers to force a deciding Game 5 in the AL division series.
"We've really battled to get back to even," Longoria said. "And I think we have a lot of confidence going home, and being able to finish the series in our home ballpark."
To do that they'll have to beat Cliff Lee, who matched a postseason best with 10 strikeouts in a 5-1 series-opening victory. The Rays lost the two games at Tropicana Field before winning twice in Texas to push a division series to a fifth game for the first time since the Los Angeles Angels beat the New York Yankees in 2005.
"I still want to believe there is a home-field advantage and hopefully that's going to show up," manager Joe Maddon said.
The series winner hosts Game 1 of the AL championship series Friday night against the Yankees. New York swept Minnesota in three games.
Texas is the only current major league franchise that has never won a postseason series, and still has not won a playoff game in front of its home fans (0-6).
"It's down to one game, we've got Cliff going and certainly feel good about that," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We have proved that we can win there."
Tampa Bay sends 19-game winner David Price to the mound tomorrow night in a rematch of the Game 1 starters.
"I like our chances with Dave on the mound again," Longoria said.
The Rays' resurgent offense helps too.
Longoria, still limited by a left quad strain that forced him to miss the last 10 games of the regular season, was in an 0-for-12 slide before he and Pena had consecutive doubles starting the fourth against Tommy Hunter. Longoria added a two-run homer in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.
After hitting only .125 (8 for 64) with one run in the first two games, and going 16 innings without scoring in one stretch, the Rays were five outs from elimination before their bats finally came alive late in Game 3. And the positive trend carried over into Sunday, when they had 12 hits.
Longoria's injury is obviously still bothering him when he runs the bases and on some plays at third base.
"He is under strict managerial orders to not run hard, although he can't anyway," Maddon said. "The ball's in the gap - listen, the walking double, I'll take it every time. ... And, of course, the home run over the wall is a nice play."
Pena put Tampa Bay ahead to stay after he tripled off the base of the wall in left-center in the second.
He scored when Matt Joyce hit a high popup in shallow right that dropped near backpedaling second baseman Ian Kinsler for an error.
In the final two innings of Game 3, Pena had an RBI single and a home run as the Rays wiped out a 2-1 deficit on their way to a 6-3 victory. Add in his first two at-bats Sunday and Pena hit for the cycle over a span of four at-bats.
Hunter struck out seven but allowed four extra-base hits in his four innings.
Rookie right-hander Wade Davis pitched into the sixth for the Rays, getting out of a base-loaded jam in the fifth when he struck out Vladimir Guerrero. Rafael Soriano worked a perfect ninth for the save.
NOTES: With his Game 1 victory, Lee is 5-0 in six career postseason starts. He went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, including 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Yankees in the World Series. ... Hunter needed 12 pitches to get the first out of the game. Then Carl Crawford grounded into an inning-ending double play on the next pitch. Crawford grounded into only two double plays in 600 at-bats during the regular season.32.7356 -97.10772 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section frontpage!
Evan Longoria is still limping. Now he's also hitting, and the Tampa Bay Rays are headed home, one victory from an improbable comeback.