BALTIMORE — The black bat in LF Carl Crawford's locker after Monday's game was more than symbolic.
Crawford's surgically repaired right hand is feeling so much better, and he is so eager to play again, that today he will take his first official swings in the first step of what he hopes is an accelerated return for the playoffs.
"I hope they like what they see," Crawford said. "I hope I don't have any setbacks. As of right now, I feel like I can swing the bat pretty aggressively. I hope something good comes out of this. … I might not be able to sleep tonight."
Crawford sought out manager Joe Maddon before Monday's game in an effort to expedite his return and after consultation with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield got the okay to try.
Crawford had surgery Aug. 14 to repair the band that secures the tendon along his right middle finger.
"It's the first time he's come and talked to me like that, which tells me he's feeling pretty good," Maddon said.
The Rays discussed activating Crawford but using him initially just as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner this week and in the first round of the playoffs. But Crawford hopes to do more.
GARZA RESTED: RHP Matt Garza had no reason to want to skip Monday's start except to get extra rest for the playoffs.
Garza, who pitched — and not particularly well — on short rest Wednesday and hasn't won in four September starts, said he would have made the start if the Rays hadn't already clinched a playoff berth.
"It was a good deal for me to get a start off and get everything right for the postseason; it worked out perfectly," he said. "It was just more of being rested and being ready for October. Nothing hurts, nothing's out of whack, it's just straight rest factor."
Garza, who will start Saturday, has worked 1792/3 innings; his high was 175 between Triple A and Minnesota last season.
PENA HONORED: 1B Carlos Pena was named AL player of the week after hitting .368 with three homers and 11 RBIs as the Rays clinched their first playoff berth. "That's really cool," Pena said. "To me, that's very nice. … Just to be recognized for something you do on the field, it's great."
HUFF HAPPY: Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff, posting stellar numbers — .309, 32 homers, 107 RBIs — said he was pleased to see his former team doing well and particularly happy for long-timers Rocco Baldelli, Crawford and Scott Kazmir.
"Since we're not in it, I'd love to see them do it," he said. "And not just be in it, but to win it. I'd like to see them pull a ring out. And it's not out of the realm of possibility. They've been the best team in baseball all year and playing in the toughest division in baseball."
WALK THIS WAY: Pena's bases-loaded walk was his ninth this season, which according to research by the Rays is the most by a player going back to at least 1957; Jackie Jensen had eight for the 1959 Red Sox. It was the Rays' 21st of the season, matching the A's for most in the majors.
GATOR BAIT: Saturday's playoff berth-clinching game on Fox had better TV ratings in the Tampa Bay market, 7.6, than the Florida-Tennessee college football game, 7.4.
MISCELLANY: RHP Troy Percival is scheduled for an epidural injection in his back today in St. Petersburg and won't be available to pitch again until Thursday. … Pena is the third player to have two 100-RBI seasons for the Rays, joining Fred McGriff and Huff. … Attendance was just 12,489. … Rays playoff T-shirts and hats are available at the team store in downtown Tampa and will be at a soon-to-be-finalized Monday rally in St. Petersburg. … Maddon and team officials will meet in Detroit to discuss specific options for the 25-man playoff roster. … O's manager Dave Trembley said of Oscar Salazar's baserunning blunder: "It's not kamikaze baseball; you don't just run 'til you're out."