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Evan Longoria proves prophetic as Rays avoid crushing loss

ST. LOUIS — Just at the moment that Sunday's game seemed destined, like the one the night before, to be agonizingly lost, with Dan Jennings giving up the tying homer in the eighth inning, Evan Longoria assured all those assembled for the meeting on the mound that the Rays had this one won.

It wasn't that Longoria had a vision of the details, not knowing then that Logan Morrison would hit his second homer of the day, and 31st of the season, to lead the Rays to a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Cardinals they so desperately needed.

It was just the belief that given the circumstance, having handed away Saturday's game, they would find a way to make amends rather than take another staggering blow to their playoff hopes.

"Even after (Saturday's 6-4 walkoff loss) we weren't really hanging our heads. … I just felt like the guys were up to the task, and we were going to find a way to win the game," Longoria explained.

"I don't really say that too often, because I don't want it to be like, 'Oh, you always say that.' I've said it a couple of times like that this year, and both of the games we've won.

"This team has really responded well. We've had some tough defeats, and it seems like when we have games like that when we come back and we have to play another close game the next day, we find a way to win it.

"This was a good one."

And a big one.

There were the obvious tangible benefits, as the Rays improved to 65-67 and stayed within three games — though also among seven teams — of the second American League wild card.

Especially as they head next to Kansas City, where — save for the mouth-watering BBQ — they have had a miserable time. They're winless there over their past two seasons, have lost 15 of their past 16, and are a staggering 2-17 since 2011. No wonder starter Jake Odorizzi says, "They're our kryptonite."

Adding to the drama, the Royals are ahead of the Rays in the wild-card race but have lost four straight and been shut out for a majors-most 34 straight innings. (Heck, that makes the Rays' recent drought of 24 runs in 14 games seem like a harvest.) And the deadline to make waiver trades with postseason eligibility is looming Thursday, which could add to the significance of the series if the Rays' bosses were harboring any ideas of flipping into sellers.

But the bigger benefit to Sunday's win was the intangible, especially given the potential for back-to-back crushing walkoff losses.

Consider that they had grabbed the lead on homers by Morrison and Brad Miller and gotten the long and strong start they needed from Chris Archer, whose only mistake was a one-out homer in the seventh to Kolten Wong.

But it took Jennings just two pitches to turn the lead into 2-2 tie, and it would have been perfectly understandable to hear "Here we go again" — with perhaps a few colorful adjectives interjected — on the mound.

"For sure," Morrison said. "But I don't think that's ever a thing we say. I hope it isn't, at least."

Manager Kevin Cash said when he got to the mound to replace Jennings with Steve Cishek — who was followed impressively by Sergio Romo and Alex Colome — he heard what Longoria was saying and could tell the others were buying in.

"We have definitely trained ourselves to handle some tough losses, and (Saturday) night was as tough as any of them," Cash said. "But there wasn't a doubt. There can always be some frustration, like we talk about. But I think the guys believe in this team, and we'll find ways to win those tight games."

After the stretch where they lost 12 of 15, it would have seemed their confidence could have been shattered. But Sunday once again proved otherwise.

"It showed me what I always knew, that no matter what the circumstances are, we're going to fight 'til the end," Archer said. "We've done it all year. We've always been that type of team."

As for Longoria's actual speech, it wasn't any great oration, just some veteran leadership, per Morrison, basically, " 'All right, we're good, we're still going to win this game.' And everyone was like, 'Yeah, we're going to win this game.' "

But in this case, it was all in the timing.

"It's good to say it," Morrison said. "Better to do it. And even better to believe it."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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