Evan Longoria, the last marquee cast member to join the Rays' postseason party, announced his arrival on Sunday at Rangers Ballpark when he lashed a leadoff double in the fourth inning against Tommy Hunter, scoring on another double by Carlos Pena.
That was the warmup phase of the day for Longoria, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season with a quadriceps strain that apparently is no minor matter, according to one teammate.
A two-run homer and a second double would follow for the man who answers to "Longo" among teammates. They'd worried that it might be "so longo" to the third baseman when he strained the quadriceps with a week and a half left in the season.
"What he's doing now, I think he's a little crazy," Carl Crawford said in the afterglow of a triumph sending everyone back to Florida for a decisive Game 5 on Tuesday night. "He can't do what he normally would do -- and he hit a home run. I don't know how he did that."
In the fifth, with Ben Zobrist on second and two away, Longoria lowered the boom on lefty Derek Holland with a blast that reached deep into the left-field seats -- and deep in the hearts of Texans in an excruciating way.
The Rangers could have walked Longoria in that situation with a left-handed hitter, Pena, due next against the southpaw Holland. Manager Ron Washington believes in his guys, but this time it cost him when Longoria went long -- very long.
As he made his way around the bases in a visibly painful home run trot, Longoria -- born, raised and schooled in Southern California -- reflected on a legendary limp-off home run by a Dodgers star in the 1988 World Series against the Athletics.
"I kind of felt like Kirk Gibson going around the bases a little bit," Longoria said.
The Rangers are trying not to feel like Dennis Eckersley, Gibson's victim that night at Dodger Stadium.
With Longoria lashing drives from foul line to foul line, it seemed that all finally was right again in Maddon World.
"He is under strict managerial orders not to run hard -- although he can't anyway," irrepressible Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I want him to guard that leg. As we get deeper in the playoffs, it shall get better."
That was a fairly bold declaration, but Maddon never has been accused of being a shrinking violet.
The Rays did a lot of things right in winning 96 games this season and seizing the AL East from the towers of power in Boston and the South Bronx. They certainly showed in Texas that they can stare at the abyss and experience no fear.
Texas is not without its positives headed back to Florida. The visiting side has won all four games in this series; Game 5 is at Tropicana Field, where the Rangers outscored the Rays 11-1 in the first two games; and, most importantly, their starter, Cliff Lee, is as good as it gets this time of year.
But David Price is a talent on Lee's level, and the Rays seem to have regained their mojo since Lee shut them down in Game 1, slashing their way to two victories in Rangers Ballpark.
"He has great postseason numbers," Longoria said of Lee. "Cliff, he is a warrior. He will go out there and battle pitch for pitch with whoever is on the mound against him. I think what we have to do is just remember that we've had good success against him -- [if] not in the postseason -- and try to take that into this next game."
Pena and Crawford, the other big forces in the heart of Maddon's order, and B.J. Upton had come surging to life on Saturday night with decisive blows in a dramatic comeback triumph.
Pena and Upton carried the good vibes into Sunday's High Noon battle, deflating the Rangers and their followers by combining for two doubles, a triple and a single, scoring two runs and driving in a pair while Wade Davis was delivering high-quality work from the mound.
But this was Longo's show. Asked about the pain in his leg, Longoria got a little technical.
"It's just all of the ... I guess they call modalities in there -- laser and phono and sound and a bunch of stuff that I don't really comprehend," he said. "But it's been progressing for me. And like Joe said, I put my faith in those guys and they did a good job in really judging the time that I needed to be ready before the playoffs.
"There's not a whole lot of pain involved. It is just more going on a day-to-day basis and trying to be in the lineup every day -- and really trying not to re-injure it at this point."
Longoria was 1-for-13 when he made his way into the batter's box leading off the fourth. Pena's triple and Ian Kinsler's misplay of Matt Joyce's towering popup had given Davis the lead.
Longoria banged a first-pitch fastball into the left-center gap, and the Rays' dugout came alive.
It was another fastball, this time from Holland in a 2-2 count, that Longoria lost for his first homer of this postseason and his seventh in 20 career games under the bright lights of October.
Longoria doubled again, to the opposite field, in the eighth, becoming the first player with three extra-base hits in an ALDS game since the Yankees' Derek Jeter also doubled twice and homered in Game 1 in 2006 against Detroit.
"I feel a little better than 50-50 going home at this point," Longoria said when asked about the Rays' chances. "We've really battled back to get even in the series, and I think we have a lot of confidence going home and being able to finish this series in our home ballpark."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.