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Battle-tested Longoria ready for biggest stage @RichardJustice

ST. PETERSBURG -- He sets the tone for an entire franchise -- both with his words and his actions. So on Sunday afternoon, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria stood in the middle of the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field and attempted to put the previous 48 hours into perspective.

"I definitely don't think I'm done playing baseball this year," he said.

The Tampa Bay Rays, that is, his Rays, have overcome so much this season already. They've dealt with injuries and slumps. They've had stretches when they looked like the best team in baseball and other stretches when they looked like they didn't even belong in the postseason.

One thing the Rays have always done, in both good times and bad They kept at it. They played hard. They fought back. Along the way, they said all sorts of good things about their competitive fire and professionalism and the kind of stuff we love to see in our professional athletes.

To keep their season alive, the Rays must win Game 3 of this American League Division Series at 6 p.m. ET on Monday at Tropicana Field (TBS). They trail the best-of-five series, 2-0, after two ugly losses to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

And that's about as must-win as it gets. In his heart and mind, Longoria just doesn't believe it's going to end now. That's how the great ones almost always feel. They believe they'll be able to write the ending they want to write.

"We have to find a way to rekindle that flame," he said. "I like our chances here. We've played really well down the stretch. I know that our home fans will be out in full force. I think our record speaks for itself when we've had a full house. We play pretty well."

The Rays are certainly capable of it. Just last week, they won three straight road games in three different cities with their season was on the line. Had they lost any of them, they would have been toast.

Longoria and the Rays returned home Sunday after a five-city, 5,631-mile grind in which they played 10 games over a span of 14 days. Every single one of those contests had the feel of a playoff game, even the ones that weren't.

Maybe the Rays finally hit a wall in Boston to begin the ALDS, as they were beaten 12-2 and 7-4. Or maybe they have enough resilience to bounce back once more time.

"I feel we are battle-tested this year," Longoria said, "and we are ready to face elimination games, and especially at home. I think we just got outplayed [in Boston]. We made some mistakes. That definitely hurt us. I thought they swung the bats better. They pitched better. At some point, you have to be able to admit that and turn the page and go to the next day."

The Rays' best hope for Game 3 is that the Trop will be sold out, and since 2008, Tampa Bay is 49-17 at home when playing in front of a crowd at least 30,000. Their other hope is that they've got their hottest pitcher on the mound in Alex Cobb.

Cobb pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings to defeat the Indians on the road in the AL Wild Card Game. In his final three starts of the regular season, the right-hander allowed a total of three earned runs.

(The Red Sox also have their best guy, Clay Buchholz, pitching Game 3, so that part of the story can be spun both ways.)

The Rays are hitting .194 in the series. Longoria has reached base four times in seven plate appearances, but that total includes three walks, which may mean the Red Sox have decided he's the lone guy in the lineup they won't let beat them.

"I'm excited about being back here," Longoria said. "I'm excited at the prospect of tomorrow's game and the chance we have. You couldn't ask for a better guy than Cobb on the mound. He's been really, really good for us, and so I think that gives everybody confidence. It gives us life."

In the history of the ALDS, 22 teams have fallen behind, 0-2, and just four of them have come back to win the series. Still, it's a place to start.

"We just continue to stay positive," Longoria said. "I mean, I've enjoyed every moment of the postseason. It's not fun to lose. It's never fun to lose. We really can't control the outcome of the game. We can't control the results. I think we prepare as best we can and go out there and see what happens."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria