Sunday, May 10, 2009

He's Mr. RBI to you

Evan Longoria is on pace to drive in 223 runs this season, which would be a major league record and pretty darn near impossible.

Unless the Tampa Bay Rays continue to play the Boston Red Sox.

Longoria’s five RBIs in Saturday’s 14-5 mauling at Fenway Park raised his RBI total to 44 – 21 in nine games against the Red Sox. Five if his 11 home runs have come at the expense of Boston pitching. Longoria is batting .367 overall, .405 against the Red Sox.

Longoria’s 44 RBIs are the most through 32 games since Brooklyn’s Roy Campanella had 45 in 32 games in 1953.

"Pretty unbelievable," Longoria told reporters in Boston after Saturday’s win. "It seems like every time I come to the plate, someone's in scoring position. And a lot of times, it's with less than two outs. All I've got to do is hit a fly ball or a ground ball to shortstop and it's an RBI. Our offense has really, really started to go in the right direction. It makes it easy to hit when you've got guys out there with less than two."

Sandwiched in the Rays batting order between Carl Crawford, who is batting .331 and seems to always be on base these days, and Carlos Pena, who leads the majors with 13 home runs, Longoria finds himself coming to bat in ideal situations.

With Crawford a threat to steal on every pitch, Longoria sees more fastballs from pitchers who want to give their catcher a chance at throwing Crawford out. Longoria also finds himself facing a pitcher whose concentration is split between the batter and the runner.

With Pena hitting behind him, Longoria sees a steady diet of strikes since walking Longoria could mean a two-run homer by Pena.

"My swing is right where I want it to be,” Longoria said. “And I mean, the guys behind me hitting, it helps a lot with the pitches I'm getting. It's a credit to them and a credit to everybody else, too. As far as my swing goes, I feel really good."

Still, Longoria has handled the bat well all season, even before Crawford got hot.

He was the American League player of the week twice in April and was the American League player of the month for the month of April, becoming the first reigning rookie of the year to win player of the month during the first month of his sophomore season.

Crawford said Longoria has that “it factor,” that all great ball players have.

Pena, who agreed with Crawford, offered a more detailed answer during the Rays last home stand.

Pena offered Longoria’s grand slam against Boston on the recent homestand that lifted the Rays to a 6-2 victory. The grand slam came one night after Longoria started the Rays on their way to a 13-0 bashing of the Red Sox with a bases-loaded, three-run triple and came off Boston starter Justin Masterson, who has been tough on Longoria.

"And that particular at-bat he had two strikes on him, and (Longoria) had not looked very pretty against Masterson. He had been very difficult on him,” Pena said. “Yet I saw him step out, take a deep breath, kind of shrug his shoulders. I'm just thinking what's going on inside him, that he's saying, 'there's only one thing I can do and that's trust my ability.' That's what it seemed like to me. And sure enough, on the next pitch he hits it out. And that to me is huge, how can you slow it down so much when everything is so quick around you. Situation, we're down, bases loaded, he's got two strikes, there's two outs. You know we need a big hit, and yet he still has the presence of mind to slow it down and say, 'I'm just going to see this ball and put the barrel on it.' ”

It was mentioned to Pena that is how Pena hits.

“He's just a kid,” Pena said. “That's what's so impressive.”

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