Rays ready to strongly impact All-Star Game
Three starters, top closer could be the difference for the AL
ANAHEIM -- With three players in the starting lineup and their closer possibly pitching the ninth inning, the Rays could have a big say in whether the American League walks away with a victory in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
A win would give the AL home-field advantage in the World Series, and that could wind up being important to a Tampa team that has as good of a chance of reaching the Fall Classic as anyone. The Rays finished the first half of the season in second place in the AL East behind the Yankees and ahead of the Red Sox.
"If we continue to play the way that we're playing, we've got a good chance to not only make the playoffs, but get to the World Series," third baseman Evan Longoria said.
Longoria will hit sixth while left fielder Carl Crawford will be in the No. 9 spot, and lefty David Price was named as the starting pitcher Monday.
"It shows how the franchise has turned around since the early days," Rays closer Rafael Soriano said. "It shows what a great job the organization does in developing All-Star caliber players."
That Crawford was put in the ninth spot in the order raised some eyebrows, but one person it did not bother was Crawford.
"There's nowhere else for me to hit," said Crawford, who was the Most Valuable Player of last year's game. "You see that lineup? It doesn't matter to me. I'm just going to do what I do and try to help the team win. I'm just happy to be in the lineup."
If the AL has a lead late, it's possible that manager Joe Girardi will turn to Soriano to close it out. The right-hander replaced the injured Mariano Rivera on the roster.
Soriano has done a tremendous job for the Rays, converting 23 saves in 24 chances, and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had lobbied for him to be on the team originally. Soriano, one save shy of the Major League lead, has a 2-0 record and 1.60 ERA.
"If he gives me the opportunity, I'd be happy and do the best I can," Soriano said. "That's not my decision. It's going to be the manager's, so I'm not going to worry about it. I could throw the second [inning], the last one, the third, it doesn't matter to me. I'm just going to do the best that I can."
Longoria hails from Downey, Calif., which is in close proximity to Anaheim, and he grew up watching the Angels play.
"This is pretty much where I was raised," Longoria said. "This is as close as it's going to get to home for me. I'm excited to get out on the field today and tomorrow and see all the people that show up."
In his third year in the Major Leagues, Longoria is putting together another stellar campaign in the field and at the plate. From May 10 to June 15, Longoria had a streak of 32 consecutive games in which he reached base. In 2009, he hit 33 home runs, 44 doubles and collected 113 RBIs, putting him in some elite company as he joined Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Hal Trotsky as the only Major Leaguers to reach those numbers before the age of 24.
This is already his third All-Star Game appearance.
"It's a very special day and one that you don't want to get too caught up in the moment," Longoria said. "It flies by so fast that if you're entrenched in the game, you're not really going to be able to enjoy everything. At the end of the day, it's going to be all smiles. I don't think anyone is going to walk away with a frown on their face. I think it's one of those days where you just try to really enjoy it, take in the moment and go away with a lasting memory."