For one day, the baseball world diverted from its usual orbit. Evan Longoria is the Rays’ third baseman. He has been and he will be for a very long time. But for one day, that was disrupted. On June 19th, 2008, Evan Longoria started for the Rays at shortstop.
Joe Maddon could not find a way to get Jason Bartlett out of the lineup. Bartlett wasn’t playing well, managing just .254/.295/.284 line through June 19th, but he was the only shortstop on the roster. Elliot Johnson and Ben Zobrist had previously been on the roster but both had been sent down to Triple-A. Bartlett started 67 of the Rays’ first 71 games at shortstop and 27 consecutively. He was worn out and Joe Maddon had to find some way to give him a day off. He went to Evan Longoria and asked him if he would take one for the team and slide over to shortstop for one game. Longoria, being the team player he is, obliged.
On June 19th, 2008, the Rays hosted the Chicago Cubs at Tropicana Field in the finale of a 3-game Interleague series. The pitching matchup was James Shields against Sean Gallagher, and the Rays took the lead in the second inning when Willy Aybar, who started the game at third base with Evan Longoria at shortstop grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to plate Eric Hinske. But that run, which was unearned, would be the only blemish on the scoreboard from either pitcher over the first 6 innings of the game. Gallagher went 6 innings for Chicago allowing just the unearned run on 4 hits, striking out 3 while walking 2, while Shields went out for the 7th inning. But after coasting through the first 6 innings, striking out 9, Shields suddenly came apart in the 7th. Micah Hoffpauir doubled off Shields to begin the inning before Shields walked Mark DeRosa. He did get a break went Henry Blanco popped up a bunt attempt right back to him, but then Mike Fontenot drilled an RBI double to tie the game at 1. Trevor Miller and Grant Balfour allowed RBI hits by Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot respectively to allow both of Shields’ inherited runners to score and give the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the game. But that score would not hold for long.
It was a bizarre game. It was the only time Gallagher didn’t allow an earned run in a start of 5 or more innings all season, and he wound up making just two more starts for the Cubs before being a part of the trade that send Rich Harden to Chicago. For Shields, it was his second straight start where he struck out 9 batters- and second straight start where he left in line for the loss. But the chaos had just begun.
Carlos Marmol walked Willy Aybar to begin the inning. Then he walked Dioner Navarro. Then he hit Gabe Gross with a pitch. An Akinori Iwamura hit-by-pitch to plate a run brought Lou Pinella out from the dugout to take Marmol out of the game in favor of lefty Scott Eyre. But Crawford greeted Eyre as rudely as it gets, tagging Eyre for a grand slam, the second of his career, to give the Rays a 6-3 lead. Crawford’s first two big league grand slams both came off of situational lefties that came in to face him, Eyre and Mike Myers. Both Eyre and Myers were run off their current team by the end of the season. B.J. Upton followed Crawford with a triple before Eric Hinske doubled him in and stole third base (not exactly a common feat). Evan Longoria got the Rays one final run with a sac fly to cap off a 7-run inning where the Rays forgot to hit any singles. Balfour and Gary Glover retired the final six batters of the game to end it as the Rays won 8-3.
June 19th, 2008 was a unique day in baseball history. It was the day that a rising superstar third baseman put himself in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position for the sake of his team. The game itself was pretty crazy and the fact that Evan Longoria has played shortstop exactly once in his major league career and did so for an entire nine-inning game is crazy as well. But given the way we have seen Longoria conduct himself his entire teams in the big leagues, it can hardly be surprising that when the team needed him, he came through and gave them everything he had.