ARLINGTON, Texas — Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and the Rays are headed back to The Trop, one victory away from an improbable comeback.
Longoria snapped out of his postseason slump with a homer and two doubles, Pena scored twice with a pair of extra-base hits of his own and Tampa Bay escaped elimination again with a 5-2 victory Sunday over the Texas Rangers.
After losing the first two games of the AL division series at home, the Rays won both games in Texas to force a deciding Game 5 at Tropicana Field.
Rookie right-hander Wade Davis pitched into the sixth, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth when he struck out Vladimir Guerrero. Rafael Soriano worked a perfect ninth for the save.
Tampa Bay, the AL's best team in the regular season, is trying to become the only team other than 2001 New York Yankees to advance to a league championship series after losing the first two division series games at home.
To do that they'll have to beat Rangers ace left-hander Cliff Lee, who matched a postseason best with 10 strikeouts in a 5-1 opening victory. The Rays send 19-game winner David Price to the mound on Tuesday night in a rematch of the Game 1 starters.
The series winner hosts Game 1 of the AL championship series Friday night against Yankees. New York swept Minnesota in three games, clinching the other division series with a 6-1 win Saturday night.
Already this season, the Rays have gone from losing at least two in a row to winning at least three straight seven times. They even pulled off that trick as part of a pivotal series against the Yankees just a few weeks ago.
Texas is still the only current major league franchise that has never won a postseason series, and still has not won a playoff game in front of its home fans (0-6).
The Rays were only five outs from elimination in Game 3 before their bats finally came alive Saturday night. And the positive trend carried over to Sunday.
Pena put Tampa Bay ahead to stay after he tripled off the base of the wall in left-center in the second. He scored when Matt Joyce hit a high popup in shallow right that dropped near backpedaling second baseman Ian Kinsler for an error.
Longoria, in an 0-for-12 slide since a single in the first inning of the series opener, had a leadoff double in the fourth and Pena followed with another double. Tommy Hunter struck out the side in the frame between three doubles, including B.J. Upton's two-bagger that drove home Pena for a 3-0 lead.
Pena's .196 batting average in the regular season was the lowest among major league qualifiers, and his future in Tampa Bay is uncertain because he is a potential free agent. For now, Pena is hitting and making sure he and the Rays keep playing.
In the final two innings of Game 3, Pena had an RBI single and a home run as the Rays wiped out a 2-1 deficit on way to a 6-3 victory.
Add in his first two at-bats Sunday and Pena hit for the cycle over a span of four at-bats.
Longoria missed the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quad that is obviously still bothering him when he runs the bases or on some plays at third base.
But Longoria got to jog around the bases after his two-run homer in the fifth that made it 5-0. It was his first homer this postseason after setting a major league rookie record with six two years ago when the Rays won the AL pennant and went to the World Series.
None of the Rays' bats were going good in the first two games, when they hit .125 (8 for 64) and the only run they scored came on Ben Zobrist's homer in the seventh inning of Game 1. They then went 16 innings without a run before finally breaking through in Game 3 – and busting out late.
Tampa Bay had 11 hits in Game 3, and added 12 more Sunday.
Hunter struck out seven, but allowed four extra-base hits in his four innings.
When Davis walked Josh Hamilton to load the bases with two outs in the fifth,with two relievers warming up in the bullpen, manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey could be seen discussing whether to make a change. They didn't and Guerrero struck out swinging for the inning-ending out.
Davis hopped off the mound with an emphatic fist pump and everybody in the Tampa Bay dugout responded in similar fashion.
But Nelson Cruz then hit the first pitch of the sixth inning for his third homer in four postseason games. Ian Kinsler followed with a single and Davis, who struck out seven and walked three, was done.
Randy Choate retired the only batter he faced, Grant Balfour allowed an RBI double to rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland before getting out of the inning.
Before the series against Tampa Bay, the Rangers had played only the Yankees in the playoffs. Texas won its first-ever playoff game in 1996, but New York then won three straight that season and swept best-of-five series in 1998 and 1999.
Now they will be depending on Lee to get them another postseason meeting with the Yankees. The main reason they acquired him from Seattle on July 9 was to help bolster their playoff chances, and then hope he could keep winning in October.
With his Game 1 victory, Lee is 5-0 in six career postseason starts. He went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, including 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Yankees in the World Series.
Hunter needed 12 pitches to get the first out of the game. Then Carl Crawford grounded into an inning-ending double play on the next pitch. Crawford grounded into only two double plays in 600 at-bats during the regular season. … The game ended soon after the Dallas Cowboys kicked off their game at Cowboys Stadium, which is adjacent to Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers drew an announced sellout crowd of 49,218, even though it was less than the record crowd of 51,746 Saturday for their first home playoff game in 11 years.
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