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Can one game change a season? We’ll see

ST. PETERSBURG

Right now, let’s call it Longo’s Game.

Evan Longoria forced extra innings with a home run, then beat the Red Sox early Wednesday morning with a 13th-inning blast to give the Rays a 4-2 victory in a game Rays manager Joe Maddon called exasperating.

“Totally exasperating,” Maddon said.

Someday the Rays might refer to the win as something else. They might say it was the night they became a playoff team; the night they realized there was still plenty of ’08 in ’09.

Yes, there are still mountains to climb. The Rays have to make their way past the Red Sox and the Yankees if they want to repeat as division champs or past the Rangers and the Red Sox if they want to enter the playoffs as the wild card.

For the record, the Rays want the division title.

And it was only one game. One long game. But it was the game the Rays could have easily lost, but didn’t. And one they could have easily won four times before Longoria’s post-midnight homer. But didn’t.

It was a night for pitching, and we saw a lot of that. The Red Sox used seven pitchers. The Rays used six. There were 440 pitches. The Rays struck out 16 times. They left 15 on base, including three in both the eighth and 10th innings when they loaded the bases with no outs. The Red Sox left them loaded in the 10th.

Longoria had four of those 16 strikeouts. And two home runs. The second homer came at 12:06 Wednesday morning.

The Midnight Ride of Evan Longoria. Call it that.

Again, one game, but the ’08 Rays looked back on a handful of games that changed their season for the better. None were bigger than that May night in Toronto when the Rays blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead and won in 13 innings. That’s when they knew they had something special.

Tuesday’s win could be that game this year.

They came back from a 2-0 deficit after Jason Bartlett drove home one run with an infield single and Longoria homered on the first pitch of the eighth.

After that, the game belonged to the bullpens, and the Rays ’pen proved it can carry this team.

Joe Dillon, playing in his first game since July 21, had his first hit since June 6. Michel Hernandez drew the walk in the 13th and became the winning run.

Longoria wasn’t having a great night at the plate. How can you when you strikeout four times? But he kept swinging and connected enough times to win a game the Rays could have easily lost.

One game, but it was one of those games that tells a lot about a team’s character. Maybe it was the game the Rays will point to in October and say that was the night that changed the season for the better.

Maybe.

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