Rays win first-ever playoff game, 6-4

Published 1:40 am Friday, October 3, 2008

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays looked perfectly at home in the playoffs.

The rookie homered in his first two at-bats and the surprising AL East champions were a big hit in their postseason debut, beating the Chicago White Sox 6-4 Thursday in their AL playoff opener.

After 10 seasons as baseball’s doormat, Tampa Bay took the division with the best home record in the majors. And there were no October jitters as the young Rays kept winning at Tropicana Field behind James Shields’ effective start and Grant Balfour’s testy, bases-loaded escape.

Email newsletter signup

Tampa Bay ranked near the bottom of the attendance charts this year, yet was cheered on by a sellout crowd of 35,041. Rays season-ticket holder Dick Vitale waved a ‘‘We Love Longoria’’ placard from his first-row seat next to the visitor’s dugout.

Game 2 is Friday, when Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir (12-8) faces Mark Buehrle (15-12).

‘‘We want to win both of them now. We have such an advantage at home,’’ Longoria said.

Chicago beat Minnesota in the AL Central tiebreaker Tuesday, and took a 3-1 lead on Dewayne Wise’s three-run homer in the third inning.

But Javier Vazquez, who has a history of flopping in big games, could not hold it.

Longoria became the second player to homer in his first two postseason at-bats, joining Gary Gaetti from 1987.

Longoria started the year in the minors and became an All-Star third baseman in the majors. He hit 27 homers despite missing 30 games with a broken right wrist.

He homered on his very first postseason pitch, a leadoff drive in the second. He put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3 with another solo shot in the third, a homer off one of the infamous catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana.

‘‘I was just looking for a pitch out over the plate I could hit,’’ Longoria said.

He also had a RBI single and finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs.