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MILWAUKEE — When Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo told Evan Longoria on Monday that he would be starting Game 1 at third base, Longoria’s response was simple.
“Gotcha,” Longoria said.
“He was tying his shoe and didn’t even pick up his head and said ‘gotcha,'” Lovullo recalled. “That’s why I like him.”
Typically, when Lovullo informs a non-everyday player that they are in the lineup, the response is a bit more animated. They might say “awesome,” they might shake his hand, even give him a hug.
Not Longoria. He means business.
And, in the most important game of the year, Lovullo knew that he wanted Longoria in there.
“I just like the stability of the human being and the stability of the at-bat, the heartbeat,” Lovullo said. “He’s got the right makeup … for what this team is going to be walking through.
“Everybody is going to look at him and be, like, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’m going to watch what Longo is doing. He might help me out and help me relax a little bit.'”
But on Tuesday in Milwaukee, Longoria was more than just a harbinger of wisdom, a listening ear and a calm presence. In fact, were it not for Longoria’s defense, the Diamondbacks would likely have lost the game.
With Arizona leading 4-3 in the fifth, disaster had seemingly struck when newly entered reliever Ryne Nelson allowed base hits to the first three batters he faced. In a one-run game, the Brewers had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Nelson managed to get the first out of the inning on a Brice Turang strikeout. Then, Ryan Thompson entered the game.
At that point, Longoria was on high alert for a groundball that could potentially turn into an inning-ending double play.
What he got was a screaming line drive several feet over his head by Tyrone Taylor. And, somehow, he turned that into a double play, too.
“I kind of just jumped and threw my glove up,” he said. “It’s just a reaction. Sometimes I don’t even jump for those, you know, and for whatever reason, in that moment, obviously, we’re trying to kind of just leave it all out on the field, and threw my glove up there. And I felt it hit my glove. I actually couldn’t believe I caught it.”
Not only did Longoria catch it, but he had the wherewithall to throw from his knees to Ketel Marte covering second base to double off Brewers baserunner Wily Adames. Inning-ending double play.
The Brewers, who began the inning with the bases loaded and nobody out, failed to score.
“It was disbelief,” Taylor told reporters after the game. “[Longoria’s] been doing it since I was a little kid. I’ve watched that man do that, so I shouldn’t have been in that much disbelief.”
Longoria’s defensive showcase was far from finished, however.
The very next inning, after a walk to Christian Yelich, Brewers catcher William Contreras hit a soft grounder to the left side, well in front of both Perdomo and Longoria.
Longoria, believing that he had a better shot at making a play than Perdomo, charged, hoping to whip it over to first and at least make it close. He was unable to do so, instead having the ball pop out of his glove as he attempted to make the transfer.
What he did do is notice that Yelich, in his peripheral vision, had leaked a few feet off second base. Longoria fired a strike to Marte, who then applied the tag.
Yelich was initially ruled safe, but the play was overturned after replay review.
“I knew once I evacuated third that [Yelich] would be looking to go to third on that play,” Longoria said. “As soon as I gloved the ball after it popped up, I took a peak and could see [Yelich] was rounding aggressively and had stopped.
“Just another big opportunity there to be able to record an out.”
Instead of having runners at first and second and nobody out, the Brewers had a runner at first and one out instead. Once again, they were unable to score.
Fastforward to the seventh inning, and Longoria was at it again.
After Sal Frellick struck out to start the frame against Kevin Ginkel, Longoria made a diving scoop on a groundball by Adames that was headed for the left-field corner. Longoria’s throw to first from his knees was late, but by keeping the ball in the infield, he held Adames to a single.
The very next better, Josh Donaldson, grounded into an inning-ending double play — a play made possible by Longoria holding Adames to a single.
“The guy just continues to rise to the occasion when we need him,” Walker said of Longoria. “Not only is he an excellent veteran presence, but when the moment calls for it, he is amazing. He comes through for us, whether it’s at the plate or in the field.”
For the first six years of Longoria’s career from 2008-13, he was a seriously good player — Hall-of-Fame trajectory good.
A decade later, he is, of course, no longer that player.
Despite being healthy for five of the six months of the regular season, he started only 60 games this year, including just three in the final 16 days of the regular season. Since returning from a back injury on Aug. 21, he slashed just .177/.271/.177 in 19 games.
Despite his recent struggles at the plate, Longoria reminded the baseball world on Tuesday, not only of the great player he once was, but the elite competitor he still is when it matters most.
With the win, the Diamondbacks now have an opportunity to advance to the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with another victory on Wednesday or Thursday.
They will have their two best starters on the mound, with Zac Gallen scheduled to start Game 2 and, if needed, Merrill Kelly slated for Game 3.
Top photo: Jovanny Hernandez/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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