ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The grimace on Evan Longoria’s face after Clay Buchholz froze him with a changeup in the fourth inning of the Rays’ 5-4 win over the Red Sox Monday night in Game 3 of their American League Division Series was telling.
It was as if a street magician had fooled him with the same cups and ball trick.
“I was mad,” Longoria said. “I was more mad at, I guess, the fact that he made a really good pitch in that spot. And I got a first-pitch cutter that I missed in that at-bat. And then I swung at a fastball after that, so I kind of put myself in a hole right away.
“After that he didn’t really make any mistakes. After that he made some good pitches and a couple of good curveballs, and throwing that changeup. When he throws it well, it’s a devastating pitch.”
When Longoria came up to the plate the next inning, he didn’t let Buchholz fool him again.
When the Sox starter came inside with another changeup, Longoria belted it into the seats in left field for a game-tying three-run homer that allowed the Rays to wrest momentum in a game where they were staring down the barrel of elimination.
“When you’re down by three in that inning, it was kind of like — we never give up, never — but we kind of got a little bit down, a little bit like, ‘Now we’ve got to score three more runs,’ ” said Rays catcher Jose Lobaton. “When we saw the ball go down, the energy came back. Everybody was kind of like, ‘We’ve got a chance now. We’ve got a chance.’ It’s a different game, 3-0 than 3-3.”
It was Longoria’s ninth postseason home run, but his first against Buchholz in 36 career at-bats.
In fact, it gave the Rays their first runs all season against Buchholz, who had thrown 13 scoreless innings in two regular-season starts .
“Clay has pitched me really tough in the past and he’s had my number,” Longoria said. “So I figure if I try to do too much it could be a bad thing. And he threw a two-seamer in the first pitch, got in on my hands, and I just barely got enough of the next pitch. It was a changeup that just stayed up enough for me to get enough barrel on it.”
That the homer came on Longoria’s 28th birthday only made it sweeter. He celebrated by becoming just the second player in postseason history to homer on his birthday.
“Any time you’re playing in October and your birthday is in October it’s a pretty good birthday in itself,” Longoria said. “Coming into the game I just . . . I wanted to play good, solid team game overall and be able to come out on top. And just to be able to get . . . to come through in that moment makes it all the more special.”
Hellickson gets nod
With the struggles he endured late in the season, Jeremy Hellickson said he was surprised to get the call as the Rays’ Game 4 starter Tuesday.
“I know that what I did the last two months didn’t sit too well with the guys making the decision,” said Hellickson, who went 0-4 in August, giving up 21 runs over his five starts. “I was very happy that they still had confidence in me going out there in a playoff game.”
It will be just the second postseason start of his career, and with the Rays facing elimination, he will have to turn the page on a season in which he went 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA.
Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to bat Wil Myers in the cleanup spot in Game 3, an elimination game at home, after Myers went 0 for 9 in the first two games and had become a punching bag for fans at Fenway Park after botching a fly ball in Game 1.
“I really think he’s a special kid and I think this is a perfect opportunity for him to really kind of turn things around for himself right now,” Maddon said. “He’s going to, over a period of time, there’s no question. Turning it around is the tough moment he just went through.”
Myers went 0 for 3 with a walk before leaving in the eighth with cramping in both legs. He received IV fluids in the clubhouse and should be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
After taking to Twitter to apologize for a series of tweets that lashed out at members of the media following his Game 2 start in Boston, Rays pitcher David Price reiterated his remorse to the media before Game 3. “That is not the way anybody should handle themselves at any time, especially myself should handle something of that nature,’’ Price told reporters. In response to criticism from TBS analysts Dirk Hayhurst and Tom Verducci, Price tweeted, “Save it nerds.” He later tweeted an apology. Calling the incident “a very dark moment in my career up to this point,” Price said he let his emotions get the best of him. “I’m a person that I feel that takes pride in character and that was probably the exact opposite of that,” Price said. “It’s not good for baseball, it’s not good for our team, especially at a time right now, and I’m deeply sorry. I let my emotions completely take over the situation.” Price also called out David Ortiz for admiring a home run Saturday night as it drifted toward Pesky’s Pole. Ortiz said the two smoothed things over . . . Rocco Baldelli, who has split allegiances having spent time with both the Rays and the Sox, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.