The All-Star third baseman has proven to be the spark that makes the Tampa Bay Rays' engine fire on all cylinders, writes Carroll Rogers
MLB: Evan Longoria makes the Tampa Bay Rays shine
Defining a "most valuable player" is not always easy.
Choosing which player means the most to a team is such a subjective characterisation and almost always up for debate - for everybody maybe, but Evan Longoria.
The 2012 Tampa Bay Rays are a different team when their All-Star third baseman is in the line-up and when he is not.
The numbers bear it out.
When Longoria tore his hamstring on April 30, the Rays were 15-8 and leading the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.
For the three months Longoria was out with a hamstring injury, the Rays went 41-44 and fell to third place.
Since Longoria returned on August 7, the Rays have gone 9-2 and passed the Orioles into second place in the AL East.
They are now atop of the AL wild-card standings at 65-54.
"He's our guy," David Price, the Rays ace pitcher told MLB.com.
"He's the face of our organisation. It's a different feeling when he's in that line-up. He makes people feel good. I don't know what it is.
"He keeps rallies going, he starts them, he drives in guys. It just bolsters the confidence of everybody else that's watching him."
The day Longoria returned to the line-up, the Rays were in the midst of a 21-inning scoreless streak, including back-to-back shutout losses to the Orioles. They beat Toronto 4-1 that day on their way to winning seven in a row.
In the 85 games he missed, the Rays averaged only 3.86 runs per game.
In 34 games with him healthy, they average 4.94 runs per game.
"Hopefully I'm able to change the complexion of the line-up," Longoria told the Associated Press upon his return. "Maybe not go out and hit two home runs a night, but maybe allow some other guys to see some better pitches and allow them an opportunity to get going. Hopefully I can provide some kind of spark and get the offence going, but I try not to put all the weight on my shoulders."
That is exactly what he has done.
Longoria is hitting just .243 with a double and a homer in 10 games since his return, while not yet full speed on his hamstring, but he has driven in seven runs.
Just his presence has an effect.
Since Longoria was close to returning from his injury, the Rays decided not to trade right-hander James Shields, and he is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts in August, all wins for the Rays.
And Longoria still leads the team in batting average (.303), on-base percentage (.384) and slugging percentage (.496).
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