A 38-Year-Old Anchors Baseball’s Most Unlikely Success Story

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jared Diamond headlined “The 38-Year-Old Anchoring Baseball’s Most Unlikely Playoff Success Story”:

Evan Longoria strongly considered retirement at the end of last season. The $100 million deal he signed way back in the autumn of 2012 had finally expired. Fifteen seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants had left him with an impressive résumé of achievements that lacked the thing he wanted most: a World Series title.

Then the Arizona Diamondbacks called. They sought a veteran presence to anchor their young roster and could offer Longoria the opportunity to remain at home in Scottsdale with his family, a luxury he valued. Yet the Diamondbacks, mired in a five-year playoff drought, hardly seemed able to deliver the championship Longoria has spent his entire career chasing in vain.

So Longoria took on a homework assignment, diving into research about the team he might join. He saw a couple of strong starting pitchers in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, unheralded sluggers like Christian Walker and Ketel Marte and a budding superstar in rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll. It was enough for him to decide to take a chance on the Diamondbacks.

Months later, his faith is being rewarded in shocking fashion. The Diamondbacks suddenly find themselves on the verge of a massive postseason upset after taking two straight games on the road from the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers, including a 4-2 victory on Monday night. This comes after an unexpected sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in the previous round.

The Diamondbacks—who sneaked into the third wild-card slot with just 84 regular-season wins—are now nine innings away from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2007.

A role player during the regular season, Longoria has emerged as a fixture this month. After starting just 41 games during the regular season, he has been in the lineup at third base for all four of the Diamondbacks’ playoff games. Before the first one last week, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo approached Longoria in the clubhouse and told him the news. Longoria’s reaction demonstrated why Lovullo wanted him on the field.

“Most people would be, like, awesome, high-five, shake my hand, give me a hug, whatever,” Lovullo said. “He was tying his shoe and didn’t even pick up his head and said, ‘Gotcha.’ That’s why I like him.”

Longoria has played in nearly 2,000 major-league games, more than anybody else in the playoffs. On Saturday, he celebrated his 38th birthday by ripping a run-scoring double off Clayton Kershaw—who began his major-league career in 2008, the same year as Longoria—in the Diamondbacks’ first win over the Dodgers. He went 1-for-3 on Monday.

For much of the early part of his career with the Rays, Longoria ranked among the top players in the sport. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2008, collected three Gold Gloves for his work at third base and made three All-Star appearances. Now he’s easily the most recognizable face—if no longer the most talented player—on a Diamondbacks squad that lacks many household names.

But a championship ring has proven elusive. In his first season, Longoria helped lead the Rays to the World Series, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. He hasn’t advanced past the division series since with the Rays or Giants, the team he played for from 2018 through 2022. That could change when the Diamondbacks return to Phoenix for Game 3 on Wednesday against a vulnerable Dodgers team.

“The experience doesn’t get any less fun, it just changes,” Longoria said. “As a young player, I’m experiencing the postseason and stuff like that in a different light than 15 years later when I look at the joy in a different way.”

Longoria said he is “thankful for the opportunity once again to play postseason baseball, to be a part of a team that’s doing it,” especially as a member of the starting lineup. (Longoria exited Monday’s game in the ninth inning after being hit by a pitch, but Lovullo said X-rays were negative.)

There’s very little about the Diamondbacks’ performance this season that would indicate that they would be on this stage. Their offense was average. Their pitching was worse than that. They allowed 15 more runs than they scored.

They did a few things well, however, using a style of play tailored to MLB’s new rules. The Diamondbacks stole the second-most bases in the majors. They rarely strike out. Their defense is among the league’s best. And Carroll developed into a legitimate star, finishing with 25 home runs and 54 steals, making him a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.

It was just enough for the Diamondbacks to win 84 games and make the playoffs. They seemed destined to bow out immediately. That’s not what happened. First the Diamondbacks quickly dispatched the 92-win Brewers and now, against all odds, have the 100-win Dodgers fighting for their postseason lives.

Longoria’s presence is giving his team a calm anchor in difficult situations.

“When I looked out in Milwaukee and saw Evan Longoria standing at third base, I took a deep sigh and thought, ‘That looks comfortable,’” Lovullo said.

In the fifth inning that night, Longoria saved the Diamondbacks by making a tumbling catch on a line drive with the bases loaded and starting a double play to escape what looked like an impossible jam. That Longoria would be such an important contributor at this point is improbable. But, then again, so are the Diamondbacks.

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