OAKLAND — “Can’t say enough about what Longo’s doing right now,” was Stephen Vogt’s thought.
Well, let’s try.
Sandwiched between a stint on the injured list, Evan Longoria has begun resembling the superstar he once was, the sort of middle-of-the-lineup force whose 1,000th career RBI, achieved Sunday, comes without much ceremony. It’s more expected than eulogized. More sensible than stunning.
In his first season in San Francisco, in a new league, facing new pitchers, the first time away from Tampa, Longoria fell flat. The rut lasted through May this season, and a one-time Rays cornerstone, locked up through 2021, looked like an albatross contract.
Since June, he’s looked like a player once on a Hall of Fame trajectory. From June 1-July 14 — his final game before plantar fasciitis stapled him to the dugout bench — he slashed .284/.347/.532 with seven homers in 33 games.
He returned Aug. 4, and it took him a few games off the IL to feel like himself again. But the himself he’s feeling like again is closer to 23-year-old Longoria than 33-year-old Longoria. Once again Sunday, with a left foot that still occasionally bothers him, he carried the Giants, this time going 2-for-4 with three RBIs, including a homer in the third and a two-run single in the seventh that brought the Giants from down 4-3 to up 5-4, the final tally.
In his past 14 games, the terrific third baseman is 21-of-57 (.368) with four homers and 17 RBIs.
“Not too many people on this coast know how good of a player Evan Longoria is,” said Vogt, a Tampa draft pick who played with Longoria with the Rays in 2012. “I was fortunate enough to be his teammate before here — I know how good he is. We all know how good he is. Man, when he gets going, there’s nobody hotter in baseball.”
Longoria, born in Downey, wore a throwback Chris Mullin Warriors jersey to his postgame interview. He knew No. 1,000 was coming and shouted out Derin McMains, the Giants’ mental-skills coach, who had given players objectives — “kind of circling challenges,” Longoria said.
“It’s a proud moment. Not something I ever thought I would do. Until really this year, it’s not something I even thought about,” said the 12-year major leaguer and three-time All-Star.
Giants fans had not seen this prolonged excellence from him yet, and it seemed cruel that once he discovered something in his swing, he incurred an injury that tends to linger. Longoria told KNBR he still feels soreness at times and, “It’s something that I definitely wake up in the morning and I step out of bed and, ‘How does it feel today?’ But it’s felt good every day.”
Sunday, that excellence was demonstrated a few different ways. In the third, he waited out Brett Anderson, sitting on a fifth-pitch changeup that he sent 409 feet to center.
Four innings later, Buster Posey worked an 11-pitch, bases-loaded at-bat in front of him, seeing Blake Treinen’s sinker, slider, fastball and cutter before striking out.
Treinen had nothing more with which to surprise Longoria, who pounced, slapping a single past third baseman Matt Chapman.
“I figured, I hadn’t swung at a first pitch this whole series,” said Longoria, who now has 56 RBIs in 100 games this season. “And I thought if [there] is a time, this was gonna be it. I thought he was gonna try to get ahead. He’s got a really good sinker. I was staring at the six-hole [shortstop], just telling myself not to get around [the pitch]. Just to see it up and get it close to me.
“It’s nice when you tell yourself something, kind of visualize it and it works out.”
It’s worked out four-digit times for Longoria. Perhaps it is belatedly working out for the Giants, too.