PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Even for an established star like Evan Longoria, the first home run of the year is always a relief.
Longoria and Ben Zobrist each hit a two-run shot in a four-run fifth inning that carried the Tampa Bay Rays past the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2 on Monday night.
Zobrist’s go-ahead shot appeared to be helped over the fence by right fielder Jose Tabata’s outstretched glove. Longoria’s drive was a no-doubter.
“Yeah, it’s good to get that out of the way,” Longoria said. “The wind usually blows dead in from left here, so I don’t put too much emphasis on the ballpark that way.”
Russell Martin had two hits for the Pirates, including an RBI double. Gaby Sanchez walked three times and scored a run.
Shelley Duncan, in the running to be a right-handed bat off the Tampa Bay bench, hit a solo home run and added a double. Rays starter Matt Moore labored through 4 2-3 wild innings, allowing only two earned runs but yielding six hits and five walks.
Pirates starter Kyle Mc-Pherson walked only one in five innings, but he gave up the home runs to Zobrist, Longoria and Duncan. He was charged with five runs.
McPherson, a rookie who showed flashes of excellence in limited major league duty last year, can’t afford to make the same mistakes as Moore.
“The first four frames were quality,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “And then the ball got elevated and he wasn’t able to keep the ball off the middle of the plate and up. It was some big league hitters, and he worked in some hot zones, and they put the barrel on it.”